Protests in Bolivia: IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Monitor Events in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

January 17, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression have been monitoring a series of protests that started in the Bolivian region of Santa Cruz de la Sierra on December 28, following the arrest of Santa Cruz de la Sierra Governor Luis Fernando Camacho. The IACHR condemns all forms of violence and emphatically rejects both allegations of an excessive use of force by the security forces and the acts of violence perpetrated by organized groups in the context of the protests of recent days. 

According to publicly available reports, these demonstrations saw clashes between civilians and police officers which left several people injured and led to allegations of an excessive use of force by the police, even against journalists and social communications specialists, as noted by the Bolivian National Press Association and the Inter American Press Association. The Ombudsperson's Office said that, according to its own records, over 13 days of protests there were "25 instances of alleged human rights violations, including an excessive use of force by the police, attacks on journalists, injuries, and burned buildings and vehicles (both private and publicly-owned)." 

The IACHR has also been informed of several acts of violence reportedly committed by organized groups against public and private property, including a minister's home. The State reported instances of violence against public officials. It also reported damage to 44 public vehicles and 27 infrastructure facilities, including burned institutional buildings and attempts to seize police facilities. About these events, the Interior Ministry reported that 76 individuals had been arrested for allegedly destroying or damaging State property, among other crimes. Of these, 24 were said to have already been convicted. The IACHR is also concerned about threats issued by violent groups on social media against human rights defenders and media workers. This entails a violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to defend human rights, which is harmful for the exercise of both tasks.  

Peaceful social protest is essential for the existence and effective operations of democracy. Efforts are required to establish whether there are violent groups who may abuse the right to protest or use protest contexts for purposes beyond those of the actual protests. These efforts would help to prevent clashes and other forms of extreme violence. Systematic and other acts of violence are not protected by the right to protest.  

The IACHR rejects the excessive use of force by officers of the State in all social protests, and it condemns the acts of violence committed by private individuals in demonstration contexts. All States must take measures to protect individuals who exercise their legitimate right to protest, as well as to preserve the safety of individuals who do not take part in protests. Inter-American standards demand that all protests be considered lawful manifestations of the rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. Security forces must not exercise violence against the press. The media and social communications experts play a role to exercise social control of protests, and to adequately direct public debate.  

In Bolivia's current context, the IACHR stresses that all individuals in political leadership positions—including public officials, candidates for office, political leaders, and officials of political parties—must use their platforms to discourage violence and promote intercultural understanding and respect for diversity. Violence can be heightened or exacerbated by intolerant public comments from high authorities and other political leaders.  

Finally, considering the events that gave rise to these protests, the IACHR will closely monitor the judicial proceedings that follow the arrests that have been carried out, with a view to ensuring full respect for judicial guarantees, due process, judicial protection, and access to justice, in keeping with inter-American standards. The Commission stresses its commitment to monitoring the situation of human rights in Bolivia, which includes liaising with all stakeholders in the country's plural society. 

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of all democratic systems. 

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. 005/23

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