Press Release

IACHR refers case on Bolivia to the Inter-American Court

March 9, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Blas Valencia Campos et al. regarding Bolivia on February 22, 2021, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case concerns the illegal search of the victims' homes and acts of excessive violence by state agents - including torture, sexual violence and incommunicado detention - during their arrest and subsequent detention.

In the early morning of December 18, 2001, numerous heavily armed State agents violently raided four properties in order to arrest persons suspected of involvement in the robbery of a van of a private company in which two policemen were killed. During the raid, a group of 22 men and women were severely beaten, 17 were taken to the Judicial Technical Police where they suffered similar humiliations while being interrogated and were presented to the press as responsible for the robbery, before being prosecuted or convicted.

In its Merits Report, the Commission concluded that both the arrests and the searches were illegal given that the constitutional and legal regulations in force at the time of the facts prohibited searches during nighttime hours, except in cases of consent of the person or in flagrante delicto. In the instant case, the searches took place four days after the facts and after a series of investigative actions had been carried out. Therefore, the Commission considered that there was no situation of flagrante delicto. Likewise, since the violence by means of which both the raids and the arrests were carried out was proven, the Commission established that they were also arbitrary.

The Commission considered it sufficiently proven that during the raids, heavily armed State agents exercised a high degree of physical and psychological violence against the people who were in the buildings, including children. The IACHR also considered that the State did not argue or demonstrate that the force used at the time of the raid was rational or necessary, beyond the generic reference to the alleged dangerousness of the detainees.

The Commission also considered it proven that sixteen persons were transferred to the premises of the JTP where they were interrogated in a context of high violence and aggression, without effective legal assistance and detained in small overcrowded cells, without beds, without access to bathrooms, food, medicine or medical attention, where they could not be visited by relatives or lawyers and where they continued to be assaulted and beaten. Once transferred to the various penitentiaries, eight people were held in solitary confinement and incommunicado, without access to natural light for more than 60 days. The Commission determined that these persons were victims of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Merits Report also found that the women were victims of particular insults and touching of their genitals, both in their homes at the time of arrest and during detention. One of them also lost a pregnancy and did not receive timely medical attention. The Commission established that such acts were carried out when the women were subject to the complete control of the power of State agents, in total defenselessness, and therefore constituted violence and sexual violation, affecting them disproportionately and causing them serious psychological and moral suffering, in addition to the physical suffering they had endured. These acts directly violated the dignity of these women and constitute serious acts of torture and violence against women.

On the other hand, the Commission established that one of the detainees died while being held in the Chonchocoro prison, after having been severely beaten and abused by State agents during her arrest. The Commission observed that there was no evidence that the State had provided medical attention or a satisfactory or convincing explanation of what had happened, and therefore concluded that the State was also responsible for the violation of the right to life.

Finally, the Commission established that the State violated the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection of the victims given that it does not appear that the facts have been investigated, even though the victims denounced on several occasions the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment suffered and the fact that the statements were obtained under duress.

In view of the foregoing, the Commission concluded that the State of Bolivia is responsible for the violation of the rights to individual liberty, privacy and domicile, life, personal integrity, the rights of the child, judicial guarantees and judicial protection, established in Articles 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 19 and 2 of the Convention.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

1. Make full reparations for the human rights violations declared in the merits report, both in material and non-material aspects. The State shall adopt measures of economic compensation and satisfaction.

2. Provide the physical and mental health care measures necessary for the rehabilitation of the victims in this case, if it so wishes and in a concerted manner.

3. To initiate a criminal investigation diligently, effectively and within a reasonable time in order to clarify the facts completely, identify all possible responsibilities and impose the corresponding sanctions with respect to the serious human rights violations recognized in the report. Since these are serious human rights violations, the State may not invoke the statute of limitations or other exonerations of criminal responsibility to fail to comply with this recommendation. In addition, the investigation of acts of torture must comply with the due diligence parameters established in this report, including those of the Istanbul Protocol and the gender perspective in the case of women victims of sexual torture.

4. Adopt the necessary measures to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. In particular, implement permanent training programs on human rights for the various police forces, officials of the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Judiciary, in order to eradicate the indiscriminate use of force in the investigation of criminal acts and in the capture and detention of those responsible for them and ensure that, in the event that such conduct occurs, effective investigations are initiated immediately and ex officio, with a gender perspective when appropriate, to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible for them.

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. 053/21