This is about the law and justice – not human rights abuses
24 de Abril de 2014 - 05h54
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A response to The Guardian article “Ecuador’s president accused of violating human rights”(14/10/2013)
By Dr Juan Falconi Puig, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UK
17 October 2013
The piece headlined “Ecuador’s President accused of violating human rights” would no doubt have concerned Guardian readers. So too the accompanying quote from Human Rights Watch that alleged:
“President Correa has long made it clear that he’s willing to go after anyone who criticises him, from civil society leaders to media critics…But with his most recent targeting of an opposition legislator, his abuse of power to suppress those he sees as his enemies has reached new and alarming heights.”
These claims stem from a court case that last year found an Ecuadorian parliamentarian, Cléver Jiménez, and two others guilty of defamation against the President.
It’s a very serious allegation to claim that an opposition legislator is being politically targeted by the President through the courts. But does it have any basis in fact? And, if not, surely it’s rather difficult to sustain the allegation that abuses of power have “reached new and alarming heights” in Ecuador?
So is it true?
Central to understanding this legal case is the attempted coup d’état in Ecuador in 2010. The original article makes a passing reference to these events by simply saying:
“Correa was held captive by police officers protesting about a cut in pay and he was rescued by soldiers during a shoot-out in which five people died. Jiménez and the union members accused Correa of ‘promoting political chaos… and perpetrating crimes against humanity’ by ordering an armed assault on a police hospital where civilians were working.”
This seriously understates the events of that day. It even leaves vague who the perpetrators of violence and human right abuses were. We should be clear: on 30 September 2010, an undemocratic and violent coup d’état attempted to oust the elected President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. The events of that day echo many in Latin America’s past, when force was used to remove elected heads of state.
Ecuador saw sections of the national police and military forces blockading highways, occupying Parliament and airports. They surrounded a police hospital where President Correa had sought refuge after himself being targeted and injured by the police.
The police refused to let the President leave, capturing him for more than 12 hours. The room the president had taken shelter in was attacked by gunfire. Then as he was rescued from the hospital his car faced a rain of bullets. I remember very well watching recordings of policemen calling out on their radios “Kill the President”, “Kill Correa”, “Don’t let him leave”. Tragically, five people did lose their life that day as a result of some police’s actions against the democratically elected President.
In what appeared to be a clear attempt at preventing the truth coming out, supporters of the police action took over the state TV channel. Elsewhere other journalists were attacked. But the thousands of people who took to the streets in Ecuador in support of their elected President knew what was really afoot. As did the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of American States which described this as an attempted coup d’état
Yet, bizarrely, to distract from what really happened, some sought to blame the President himself. Parliamentarian Cléver Jiménez was one. Abusing parliamentary immunity, he claimed President Correa had committed a “crime against humanity” and was in fact responsible for the violence rather than its target. Jiménez also alleged that far from President Correa having to be rescued from the hospital, he had left the hospital and sheltered in a nearby university from where he simulated his rescue – a claim Jiménez has since acknowledged was just an “assumption”.
Last April, after a hearing, the National Court of Justice dismissed Jiménez’ claims as “malicious and reckless”.
It’s worth noting that on the day of the attempted coup itself, Jiménez had demanded that the elected and legitimate President should resign and called for a national front of opposition forces to remove Correa from office. Let’s be clear what this would have meant: sections of the police and military, in an alliance with minority political forces, would have overturned the democratic will of the people. That is a conspiracy.
Under Ecuador’s Constitution everyone has the right to seek redress under the law, including State officials. As is his right as a citizen, Rafael Correa challenged Jiménez’s accusation that he was responsible for murder and crimes against humanity. He used the justice system to sue for defamation.
An independent court, earlier this year, found Jiménez guilty and he was sentenced according to my country’s penal code. The judge ruled parliamentary immunity did not apply as the accusations against President Correa were not related to Jiménez’s job as a legislator. This job can be done perfectly well without defaming people. One thing is immunity and another is impunity.
Clearly, this is a simple case of the implementation of the nation’s legal code regarding defamation. Those seeking to claim that this is a wider example of civil liberties being undermined are confusing freedom of expression with the freedom to defame, even where that defamation is a blatant attempt to excuse a coup d’état.
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