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UN human rights office says Ecuador police used excessive force during protests

The United Nations Office for Human Rights claims that Ecuadorian police used “disproportionate and excessive force” in response to anti-government protests in October. The UN is urging Ecuador’s attorney general to conduct investigations into the alleged abuses.

Police confront protesters in Quito on October 11.

A UN team was in Ecuador from October 21 to November 8 to hear victim and eye-witness allegations of police brutality and arbitrary detentions that occurred during protests following a presidential decree eliminating fuel subsidies.

The protests, led by the country’s transportation workers and indigenous organizations from October 3 to 13, resulted in 9 deaths, 1,507 injuries, including 435 suffered by police, and 1,382 arrests.

In its report, the UN says that the government did not follow international norms in its reaction to the protests. In particular, the report said that police fired tear gas and rubber pellets at protesters at short range, resulting in hundreds of injuries, including many involving the loss of vision. “Proper criteria were not followed in confrontations with demonstrators,” the report said.

The vast majority of allegations of abuses were in Quito, the report said. “There were protests in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Ambato, Riobamba and Machala, but these were restricted to small areas of those cities and resulted in fewer injuries.”

The UN also called the nationwide state of emergency declaration “extreme and arbitrary” and said its enforcement in Quito in particular violated the rights of the entire population, not just protesters. In addition, it called many of the arrests “unjustified” citing the fact that most of those detained were released within 24 hours.

UN human rights commissioner and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet claimed the protests “had a high human cost” and stressed that “people should be able to express their complaints without fear of being injured or detained.” She added that some of the blame rests with protesters and said there was no excuse for looting and damage to property.”

The UN plans to dispatch investigators to Chile, Bolivia and Colombia but says it must wait because protests in those countries are continuing. “At this point, it appears the protests and resulting deaths and injuries in Chile, Bolivia and Colombia are worse than in Ecuador.”