Expert Panel on Ecuador Unpacks Freedom of Expression and Wrongful Convictions

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A recent panel, hosted by University of Miami School of Law’s International Moot Court Program, examined issues based on the publication Fallos Judiciales que Violan Derechos Humanos en Ecuador, a 2015 U.S. State Department report on human rights abuses in the country.

Panelists with Moderator Paula Arias

Paula Arias, director of the international moot program, brought together experts in the field, including James E. Keeble, project coordinator for the Inter-American Institute for Democracy; Bjorn Arp from the Inter-American Bar Association; and Professors Caroline Mala Corbin and Craig Trocino, director of Miami Law’s Innocence Clinic.

The discussion centered on the interplay between freedom of expression and wrongful conviction drawn from a rigorous academic study of six cases that occurred in Ecuador. The State Department found restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and assembly amid widespread corruption and a lack of independence in the judicial sector, according to the report. It detailed use of excessive force and unlawful killings by government forces, arbitrary arrests, and detentions, delay and denial of due process. Also troubling were reported violence and discrimination against women, children, minority groups, and the LGBT community as a whole. Human trafficking persisted as well as child labor practices.

The Interamerican Institute for Democracy and the InterAmerican Bar Association had organized “independent cases studies” of Court decisions whose content and rulings violate the tenets of human rights, which resulted in the publication of “The Role of the Judiciary in the Violation of Human Rights in Ecuador: Six Case Studies.” The work is not a political analysis, but an academic study that reviews with judicial precision, opinions and decisions in light of fundamental rights.

The six cases were selected by some of the most prestigious scholars in Ecuador in matters of constitutional, criminal, and related matters.

“The study focuses on scientific evidence what until now has been denunciation of the victims, the press, analysis, and political debate,” Keeble said. “In the case of the ‘Ten de Luluncoto,’ the government got the support of the Courts for detaining and punishing ten young people who were planning to participate in an indigenous march, on the grounds that they were planning ‘terrorist attacks.’”

“There is something absurd in the circumstances of the case, which was to participate in a public and peaceful march. In the case of Sebastián Cevallos, a criminal conviction was issued for having sent a tweet in which he insinuated that a high public official had obtained his position thanks to his family connections,” Keeple said. “To criminally prosecute for a tweet that implies something about a public official is disproportionate and threatening to free expression. In another surprising sentence, Francisco Endara was criminally convicted ‘for clapping’ – literally – during protests against the government, in connection with the crime of ‘shutting down public services.’”

The book also includes the case of the 29 Saraguro’, in which two indigenous people were sentenced to four years in prison for organizing a demonstration on the Pan-American Highway. The case of the seizure of the TV Channels TC and Gamavisión was justified on the bases of criminal cases brought against the effective owners. After the government publicly expressed its criticism for the criminal acquittal of the media owners, dismissed the Judges, and replace them with Judges more amenable to the government, who condemned the owners to eight years in prison.

The same interference occurred in the case of the twelve students of Central Technical High School. Although at the outset, both the prosecution and the competent Judge did not see any crime in organizing a public protest against the change of name of their school, the President of Ecuador personally ordered the Judge to revoke this decision and the students to be criminally punished. Two days later, the prosecution resumed the trial and the Judges condemned the students for the crime of "rebellion."

“The cases speak for themselves about the situation of human rights and freedom of expression in Ecuador,” Keeple said.

More on Public Interest & Advocacy and Human Rights Law at Miami Law.