Ecuador: Conscientious objection case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

A case of conscientious objection from Ecuador has been admitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  The case has been filed by Xavier Leon, an active member of the Ecuadorian conscientious objectors' movement. According to the petition, Xavier Leon "made a declaration of conscientious objection on September 2, 1999, and from October 16, 1999 until October 15, 2000, carried out civic service in the community as a human rights extension worker in the Ecuadorian Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJE-E), as provided for in the 1997 Political Constitution of Ecuador, he has not been issued with the card which defines his status as conscientious objector or similar, that would have the same legal effects as the military card given to those who complete obligatory military service. According to the petitioner, this omission has directly affected his freedom of conscience, the continuation of his education, his freedom to leave and enter Ecuador freely, as well as his right to work and engage in free enterprise."

In its admissability decision, the Commission writes: "The Commission considers that the right to refuse to comply with military service or conscientious objection is a right that could derive from Articles 11 and 12, read together with Article 6.3.b of the American Convention where conscientious objectors are expressly recognized in the legislation of the state under consideration. The 1997 Constitution of Ecuador recognizes this right in Article 188. The question that has been lodged with the Commission and which must be resolved at the merits stage is whether the procedure used in Ecuador to regulate the condition of conscientious objector, and the different forms of substitute service permitted, are compatible with the provisions of the conventions quoted above. Therefore, the Commission must examine the allegations of the petitioner in relation to the alleged affectation of other rights such as the right to education and the right to freedom of movement caused by the lack of a military identity card."

If decided positive, the case will have important implications all over Latin America, especially regarding the 'libreta militar', and the issue of discrimination. As Ecuador recognises the right to conscientious objection in its constitution, but fails to implement this right in its legislation, the case is very different from the case of Chile, which was decided unfavourably by the court in 2005 (Case 12219, 10 March 2005).

Besides using the Inter-American system, Ecuador's conscientious objectors are also preparing to lobby the constitutional assembly, which from November on will meet to write a new constitution for the country.

Source: Petition 278-02