Press Release

IACHR Warns about the Risk of Impunity for Human Rights Violations in Bolivia, Calls for a National Dialogue to Reach a Constitutional Solution to the Crisis

November 19, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the excessive use of force in combined raids by the National Police and the Armed Forces to repress recent demonstrations in Bolivia. The IACHR urges the State to adopt all measures necessary to prevent impunity, to protect the right to peaceful assembly, and to take urgent action to preserve Bolivians’ lives and integrity, as well as ensuring that journalists and autonomous institutions to protect and defend human rights can do their job. Given the ongoing political and institutional crisis, building a broad, credible, and representative national dialogue is crucial to find a constitutional way out of the crisis.

According to publicly available reports, a total of 23 people have been killed since October 20 in the context of post-election social violence, while 715 people have been injured and 624 have been arrested over the same period. Since combined raids by the National Police and the Armed Forces started, nine people were killed in Sacaba, Cochabamba, on November 15, in events that also left 122 people injured in a context where the security forces repressed demonstrators.

The tough repressive response adopted by the security forces—including the use of firearms—has led to an increase in the number of people killed or injured since former president Evo Morales left office. The Commission is particularly concerned about the fact that the National Police is conducting combined raids with the Armed Forces on law enforcement tasks, without adequate legal justification.

The IACHR is further concerned about restrictions imposed over the past week on the work of journalists and media outlets. There have reportedly been threats to shut down TV channels, detentions and other forms of pressure on media workers, and burned radio station facilities, among other issues. This has made the work of the press more difficult and violated citizens’ right to access information, particularly in recent instances involving an excessive use of force. The State has a duty to protect the safety of journalists and communicators who are reporting in the context of public demonstrations, and to ensure that they will not be arrested, threatened, attacked, or have their rights restricted in any other way for doing their job. Attacking journalists violates freedom of expression, both individually and collectively.

The IACHR stresses that States need to act based on the legality of any public protests or dissident public comments and to assume these are not a threat to law and order. The State’s security operations need to be carefully planned, with clear protocols that guarantee an adequate, gradual, and proportionate use of non-lethal weapons, and to ensure full respect for human rights.

The Commission further stresses its concern about the involvement of the Armed Forces in operations to ensure public order and, in particular, to promote citizen security in the context of social protests. The IACHR also notes that, in accordance with inter-American standards, States have a duty to restrict as far as possible their use of the Armed Forces to control internal riots, since these forces—unlike police institutions—have been trained to defeat an enemy rather than to protect and control civilians.

The Commission was very concerned about the publication on November 15 of Supreme Decree 4078, regarding the actions of the Armed Forces in Bolivia. According to the information the IACHR has received, this decree seeks to exempt members of the Armed Forces who take part in raids to restore law and order and stabilize public order from any responsibility under criminal law.

The Commission stresses that the Inter-American Court has said that amnesty and statute of limitations dispositions and exemptions from responsibility that seek to preclude criminal prosecution—and any other hurdles under domestic law that seek to preclude investigation and punishment for anyone responsible for serious human rights violations—are inadmissible, as violations of inalienable rights recognized by international human rights law. The IACHR condemns all administrative acts that promote impunity and violate the right of victims and their families to truth and justice.

The Commission condemns hate speech targeting indigenous peoples in Bolivia and their symbols, which has been heard over the course of this week. The Commission is concerned about reports of threats aimed at officials of the previous government, social leaders, and members of community assemblies. Several public servants and heads of independent State institutions—including national organizations to promote and protect human rights—have allegedly also received threats. The Commission reminds the State of its duty to protect individuals who are at risk, particularly those who hold public positions or mandates, since attacks on them not only violate their individual rights but also undermine political pluralism, democratic institutions, human rights institutions, and the rule of law more generally.

The Commission stresses that it is important to ensure that national human rights institutions can act independently, to enable them to do their job without facing retaliation or any other attacks.
The IACHR notes that, on November 12, a minority vote in the Senate—held and counted despite being inquorate—chose a new speaker of the legislature, who went on to declare herself Bolivia’s acting president, while the country’s Constitutional Court supported her move. The IACHR deems it necessary to launch a national dialogue that is public, representative, and inclusive, in order to appoint new members for Bolivia’s electoral authority and to hold transparent, credible elections within 90 days, so a constitutionally valid solution can be found.

Social repression must end ahead of that national dialogue, while leaders across the political spectrum must immediately condemn all acts of violence. Finally, the IACHR stresses that the State has a duty to provide reparations to victims and to promote justice for victims’ families.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 296/19