Press Release

IACHR Urges Bolivia to Respect Inter-American Standards for Due Process and Access to Justice and Stresses the Country's Obligation to Investigate and Punish Anyone Responsible for Human Rights Violations Committed in the Context of the 2019 Electoral and Institutional Crisis, and to Ensure Comprehensive Reparations for Victims and their Families

March 16, 2021

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Washington, D.C. – Since the start of the political and social crisis around the elections of October 20, 2019 in Bolivia, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has repeatedly called on the State to diligently investigate, prosecute, and punish anyone responsible for the violence and serious human rights violations committed in the context of the crisis, and to ensure reparations for victims. The IACHR has also repeatedly stressed the importance of drawing up a plan to immediately assist victims of human rights violations and their families, and to provide comprehensive reparations for them.

This is why the Commission created the Group of Independent Experts, a mechanism to support investigation into the acts of violence and human rights violations that happened in Bolivia over the period September 1–December 31, 2019. To this day, the IACHR remains fully committed to defending and protecting the rights of victims and their families.

The IACHR urges Bolivia to strictly comply with its international obligations concerning due process and access to justice, in order to ensure comprehensive reparations for victims of serious human rights violations and their families.

In recent days, the Commission became aware of the issuance and enforcement of arrest warrants against individuals who made up the interim government in 2019–2020, for crimes including sedition, terrorism, and conspiracy, in the context of a legal case known as "Coup d'état." According to publicly available reports, the individuals who are being subjected to these criminal law proceedings allege that they are being persecuted and, in the cases of the individuals who have been arrested so far, that they were not duly notified of proceedings, among other issues concerning due process. According to the reports the Commission has had access to, these judicial proceedings started with a complaint filed by a private citizen and also involve allegations against individuals who were not members of the interim government.

The information that has been provided by the State says that the individuals who have been arrested were all duly assisted by the National Public Defense Service and declined legal assistance from the State because they had their own legal representatives, although they continue to have the right to a Public Defense should they want it. The Ombudsperson's Office said it had decided to monitor the actions of Bolivia's Police and Public Prosecutor's Office, to ensure that due process and the arrested individuals' right to a defense were being respected. The Ombudsperson's Office further noted that the individuals who have been arrested have not suffered torture or any other form of ill treatment.

The Attorney General's Office stressed that arrest warrants were issued in keeping with the law, without violating the rights of detainees, and noted that these arrests "neither respond to not reflect political persecution, but rather the details of an investigation that was launched following a complaint."

The IACHR stresses that judicial proceedings—including those launched for alleged crimes against the domestic constitutional order—must be conducted with absolute respect for inter-American standards concerning judicial guarantees, judicial protection, and access to justice, in the context of an independent and impartial justice system that is free from interference by other State institutions.

The Commission therefore urges the Plurinational State of Bolivia to continue to make sure that the individuals who are being prosecuted in this context have the minimum judicial safeguards they need to exercise their defense. These include, among others, the rights to be presumed innocent, to file effective remedies, to be notified of the charges and accusations against them, and to be shown the evidence and given the option to challenge it.

Finally, the Commission stresses that, based on the information it has received, the individuals who are being subjected to investigation in this case have been said to have committed sedition and terrorism, among other crimes. The IACHR further notes that efforts to monitor the situation of human rights in Bolivia reveal recurrent complaints of actions and patterns that reflect the judicial persecution of political opponents of the government, in various State administrations, precisely alleging sedition and terrorism, among other crimes.

In this sense, the IACHR stresses that certain Bolivian laws against terrorism violate de legality principle, because they include, among others, a comprehensive definition of terrorism that is inevitably too broad or vague. More generally, the Commission has called on States in the Americas to respect the legality principle when defining crimes. The IACHR has also urged that criminal law proceedings for terrorism comply with the fundamental requirement that no one can be convicted of a crime except based on individual criminal responsibility, and with the corollary of this principle banning collective criminal responsibility.

The State informed the Commission of the existence of complaints filed before the Plurinational Constitutional Court (TCP, by its Spanish acronym), demanding that articles in the Penal Code on the crimes of sedition and terrorism be declared unconstitutional, for allegedly violating the American Convention on Human Rights and the Bolivian Constitution. According to the information that was provided to the Commission, these complaints are pending resolution by the TCP.

The IACHR remains concerned about repeated allegations of a lack of independence in the administration of justice in Bolivia and of the prevalence of structural problems in the country's judicial system. These issues have been noted on several occasions by a plurality of civil society organizations. The Commission stresses that the independence of all institutions with jurisdictional responsibilities is essential to ensure due process, and notes that the lack of independence affects access to justice and more generally encourages citizen doubts about the system for the administration of justice. The IACHR therefore stresses its call on the State of Bolivia to take any measures necessary to ensure the independence and impartiality of the country's justice system, by implementing structural reform based on the principle of victims' access to justice and on the need for timely and adequate reparations. In this context, the IACHR joins the Mission in Bolivia of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to call for structural change to address the profound causes of human rights violations in the country and to ensure non-recurrence.

Finally, taking into consideration the precedent of politically and institutionally motivated violence in Bolivia, the IACHR stresses its call for the highest level of the State to lead a national dialogue and reconciliation process, with the aim of defusing the tension and hostilities that are latent within Bolivian society, to ensure full respect for the human rights of all people.

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

No. 062/21