The quip was made during an investor’s meeting in the city of Guayaquil on Jan. 31, where he said “men are constantly subject to the danger of being accused of harassment.”

“I see women making harassment claims a lot of times, yes, it’s good that they do that. But sometimes they only target those people who are ugly for harassment,” Moreno said.

“If the person is attractive, based on the canons of society, [women] don’t necessarily consider it harassment,” the 66-year-old leader continued. He got a couple of chuckles and applause from what appeared to be a mostly male audience.

He walked back his comments in a tweet late Friday, where he apologized for how his comment was interpreted: “In my comment about harassment, I never meant to minimize such a serious issue like violence or abuses. I apologize if that is how it was interpreted. I reject violence against women in all its forms!”

But the comments had already gone viral, sparking outrage online.

On Monday, Quito’s Council for the Protection of Rights, one of Ecuador’s main human rights watchdogs, condemned Moreno’s comments for “joking” about sexual harassment.

“A sort of ‘joke’ about sexual harassment, which came from the country’s highest authority, exposes how terribly naturalized this sexist act – which affects nearly every woman in different places and of any age group — is. Women are exposed to this type of violence regularly in educational centers, universities, workspaces, political organizations, public transportation, streets, plazas, etc. Maybe that’s why it seems normal, tolerable and ridiculous,” read the council’s statement.

In a survey of more than 20,000 households last year, Ecuador’s National Institute of Statistics and Census found that more than 32% of women said they had been victims of some form of sexual violence.

The incident comes just days after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) began hearings regarding a high-profile 2002 case that alleges the Ecuadorian government failed to investigate or hold responsible a 65-year-old school official accused of sexually abusing one of his teenage students, who later died by suicide.

The IACHR is expected to deliver its verdict on the case by the end of the year.