Ecuador: Military service law unconstitutional

On 27 June 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador decided about the constitutionality of the military service law of the country. The Tribunal decided in a majority judgement, published in the Official Gazette on 27 June 2007, that articles 88 and 108 of the military service law violate the constitution of Ecuador.

Article 88 of the law states that all male Ecuadorians who did not present themselves in order to fulfill their military obligations are considered "remisos" (draft evaders), and are subject to a range of sanctions, until they legalise their situation, most likely via the payment of a "compensation quota" to obtain military documents.

Article 108 restricted the right to conscientious objection, which is guaranteed in the Ecuadorian constitution (Art 188). While the constitution says that conscientious objectors "can be assigned to a civilian or community service", Article 108 of the military service law required conscientious objectors to apply to the director of recruitment of the Armed Forces, and - if recognised - to serve in the development units of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces.

The Tribunal critised both parts of Art 108. It sees service in the development units of the Armed Forces as incompatible with the conscientious objection, and denies that the director of recruitment can be an independent and impartial judge to decide whether someone is a conscientious objector.

Because Art 108 is unconstitutional, conscientious objectors cannot fulfill their obligations under the military service law, and therefore, according to the Tribunal, any sanction or punishment for not doing so amounts discrimination, and is therefore also unconstitutional. In practice this means conscientious objectors in Ecuador presently do not need the "libreta militar" or any other (military) document - until the law will be adjusted and brought in line with the constitution.

However, when Ecuadorian conscientious objector Xavier Leon Vega tried to board a plane in Quito on 22 August 2007, to travel to a WRI conference in Israel, he was stopped by a military officer, and asked for his "libreta militar". When León Vega told the officer that it was not necessary to present the military ID card in order to travel, the officer, who did not identify himself but was at the military desk at 3pm, stated "If it were not necessary, I wouldn't be here." León Vega said that he did not have a military identification card and the officer, after much intimidation, stated that he would "forgive him this time" but not before photocopying León Vega's passport.

León Vega states: "It is a violation to the rights of all conscientious objectors that, regardless of having won our case of unconstitutionality here in Ecuador and having abolished the need to require this military ID for travel, work and education, that the armed forces continue to ask for it."

Presently, the case of Xavier Leon Vega is still pending at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (see co-update August 2007).

Sources: Registro Oficial No 114, 27 de Junio del 2007, War Resisters League: Armed Forces At Quito Airport Illegaly Ask CO For Military ID In Order To Travel, 22 August 2007, LEY DE SERVICIO MILITAR OBLIGATORIO EN LAS FUERZAS ARMADAS NACIONALES, 15 September 1994