A leading international human rights group accused Ecuador's government Wednesday of severely undermining the independence of the country's judiciary through the removal and naming of hundreds of judges following a 2011 referendum that endorsed reform.

Human Rights Watch's Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in a letter to the president of the country's judicial council that that its naming of all 21 members of Ecuador's highest court, for example, was done "through mechanisms that lack the objectivity and transparency" set by international conventions to which Ecuador is a party.

The letter notes that the council is comprised almost entirely of former members of President Rafael Correa's administration.

The letter was addressed to council president Gustavo Jalkh. His office did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment via phone and email.

Jalkh is a former interior minister for Correa, a leftist economist who first won election in 2006 and is widely popular for his generous social welfare policies but criticized internationally for his intolerance of dissent.

In the letter, Vivanco cites government figures as saying the judiciary council and its transitional predecessor appointed 1,430 judges, suspended 273 and removed 380 between July 2011 and last November.

It says that in most removals, the judges were deemed to have violated a vaguely worded article that forbids judges them to act with "criminal intent, evident negligence or inexcusable error."

Vivanco also cites a report issued in December 2012 by international observers that criticized the use of the article as well as the process of selection of Ecuador's highest court, the National Court of Justice.