Press Release

IACHR Welcomes the Establishment of the Truth Commission in Bolivia

September 14, 2017

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Washington, DC – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the establishment of a Truth Commission by the Bolivian government on August 21, 2017, when its five members were sworn in during a public ceremony at the Government Palace. The Truth Commission will investigate serious human rights violations that took place between 1964 and 1982. The IACHR recognizes the efforts of the State of Bolivia to promote the right to the truth in the country, following the recommendation of the IACHR at a public hearing during the 154th Period of Sessions in March 2015.

The Truth Commission was established by Law 879 of December 23, 2016 “to solve the murders, forced disappearances, tortures, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence, considered grave human rights violations, which were committed in Bolivia for political and ideological motives from November 4, 1964, to October 10, 1982," a period during which a series of military governments committed grave human rights violations. After swearing in its five members—Nila Heredia; Édgar “Huracán” Ramírez; Eusebio Gironda; Isabel Vizcarra, and Teodoro Barrientos—the Truth Commission will have two years to conduct its investigations and submit its final report. Following the intensive organizing efforts of associations representing relatives of the victims and other civil society organizations, the swearing-in was conducted on the 46th anniversary of the coup d'état that launched the dictatorship of Hugo Banzer Suárez.

“Establishment of the Truth Commission is a fundamental step toward promoting memory, truth, and justice in Bolivia and in the region,” said Commissioner Vannuchi, the IACHR Rapporteur for the Unit on Memory, Truth, and Justice, as well as the country Rapporteur for Bolivia. "It is essential for the State to ensure conditions for full compliance with its duties, as well as to move forward in improving the mechanisms for providing reparations to victims and administering justice regarding the agents responsible for grave human rights violations," he added. The IACHR calls on the other countries of the region to continue in their efforts to comply with their international obligations relating to the right to the truth.

The State has previously made efforts to promote truth and memory for the serious, generalized, and systemic human rights violations that took place from 1964 to 1982. In 1982, the State launched the National Commission for the Investigation of Forced Disappearances in Bolivia. However, it was dissolved in 1984 without completing its work or issuing its final report. Likewise, although the Interinstitutional Council for Solving Forced Disappearances (CIEDEF), created in 2003, was able to find some missing remains of the disappeared, it made little progress in identifying the bodies. In this regard, the IACHR views the creation of the Truth Commission as an important measure toward promoting the right to the truth regarding grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity in the country. The IACHR emphasizes that the Truth Commission will not be restricted to forced disappearances, but will also investigate other human rights violations. The Commission was also informed that on August 30, the government announced that it was preparing a budget allocation decree, a necessary step for the effectiveness of the work of the Truth Commission. The IACHR urges the State to ensure that the political, institutional and budgetary conditions are in place for the Commission to fully perform its duties; in addition, the IACHR emphasizes that the Truth Commission must act with independence regarding the government or other state powers.

Law 879 also establishes the declassification of military, police, and other documents, access to which is currently restricted. Last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began the declassification process, a step that must be taken by other State bodies. The IACHR highlights the announcement made by the Armed Forces on August 28, 2017, that it would open its archives to the Truth Commission and allow access to military facilities. The IACHR urges the State to ensure declassification of the archives of the various government bodies as well as unrestricted access for the Truth Commission, the relatives of victims, and society as a whole, pursuant to Inter-American standards on the issue.

The IACHR emphasizes that in addition to the conditions necessary for its operation, the impact of the Truth Commission will depend on broad dissemination of its findings and implementation of its recommendations. In keeping with the case law of the Inter-American System, although truth commissions contribute to rebuilding social fabric, they cannot be a substitute for the State’s obligation to establish the truth through judicial processes and to administer justice regarding those responsible for grave human rights violations. The IACHR urges the State to fully comply with its international obligations on memory, truth, and justice.

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 defense of 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. 142/17