Ecuador: Supreme Court Reconstituted Seven Months after Dissolution Crisis

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, December 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Ecuador: Supreme Court Reconstituted Seven Months after Dissolution Crisis


Seven months after it was dissolved, a new Ecuadoran Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) was sworn in on Nov. 30. Thirty-one judges and 21 alternate judges were sworn in by Carlos Estarellas, president of the four-member commission appointed to choose the magistrates. International leaders like Organization of American States (OAS) secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza, Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN) secretary Allan Wagner, and UN assistant secretary-general Angela Kane witnessed the ceremony.

The ceremony was also attended by President Alfredo Palacio, who was appointed to finish out the term of former President Lucio Gutierrez (2002-2005), which ends in January 2007, and several other international monitors and diplomats. Congress forced Gutierrez from office on April 20, five days after he disbanded the court and decreed a state of emergency, sparking massive street protests by Ecuadorans who believed he was manipulating the justice system to help political allies and increase his power.

Gutierrez, with collaboration from a slim majority in the Congress, had previously replaced the entire court in December 2004 (see NotiSur, 2005-01-07 and 2005-04-22). Gutierrez and his allies argued that the court was politically dominated by former rightist President Leon Febres Cordero (1984-1988) and enjoyed impunity. Gutierrez characterized the replacement of the court a "depoliticization." The action was a major event leading to the former Army colonel's fall from power.

Gutierrez was arrested Oct. 14 after declining political asylum in Colombia and flying home, hoping to reclaim the presidency from Palacio, his ex-vice president (see NotiSur, 2005-11-11). His case may now go before the new CSJ, along with cases against former Presidents Abdala Bucaram (1996-1997)--currently exiled in Panama--and Gustavo Noboa (2000-2003), as well as ex-vice president Alberto Dahik, who is in Costa Rica. The court will probably also hear Gutierrez's complaint against Palacio that the latter perpetrated a coup against him.

Chilean Juan de Dios Parra, secretary of the Asociacion Latinoamericana para los Derechos Humanos (ALDHU), said the CSJ should now "vacate the more than 8,000 backed-up cases" that the court has not been able to try since its dissolution in April.

UN observer Carlos Ayala praised the CSJ staffing process as a success that could "be converted into an example for the hemisphere where we still see democracies in which the CSJs are elected with political influence and we haven't achieved the complete independence of the judicial power." Ayala thought the process had shown Ecuadorans that "it is possible [to get] independent, impartial, and efficient justice."

Only 2 women join final list of 31 judges

Only two women, Pilar Sacoto and Ana Abril, joined the court after the committee deciding on the new judges used a points system that gave greater weight to certain forms of legal experience. Sacoto was rated as the twelfth-best of the 31 judges, while Abril was ranked as number 24.

Women's advocates had said that the points system would discriminate against women, since they have only recently been integrated into the

country's judicial establishment. The system, for example, gave four points for each year of professional practice after a 15-year minimum, something women's groups said would exclude women since they hadn't entered universities in large numbers until the late 1980s. They had asked that the Comite Calificador, the four-member qualifying committee charged with evaluating applicants to the court, use a different system that would allow more women to rise to the bench (see NotiSur, 2005-07-29). …

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