Press Release

IACHR Concerned about Violence during Electoral Process in Bolivia

October 23, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the serious violence that has taken place during the electoral process in Bolivia. The Commission calls on the State to take any measures necessary to protect the safety, personal integrity, and freedom of expression of its people in this context—particularly during peaceful demonstrations held to advocate for democracy—and to provide safeguards so the media can cover the process of verifying the election. The Commission further urges the State to effectively investigate any acts of violence that may arise, ensuring due process.

According to the information received by the IACHR, citizens have demonstrated since October 21, 2019 in several Bolivian cities—including La Paz, Sucre, Oruro, Tarija, Cochabamba, Potosí, Trinidad, and Cobija—to demand that departmental electoral tribunals and the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal ensure transparency in the vote-counting stage of the electoral process.

According to the available reports, the Police has used force to disperse demonstrations like the one held before the vote-count headquarters, although participants were peacefully pressing their demands there. The IACHR condemns the attack suffered by Waldo Albarracín, rector of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, during these protests. Albarracín’s face was hit by a tear gas container thrown by an individual who is yet to be identified.

The Commission was also informed that some demonstrators had perpetrated serious acts of violence during some protests, among others by starting fires at the departmental electoral tribunals in Potosí, Tarija and Pando and causing further damage at those sites. Those events have been denounced by national authorities. The IACHR strongly condemns all violence and stresses that inter-American instruments protect social protest as long as it is peaceful.

The Commission reminds the State that the security forces have the obligation to allow demonstrations and protests to take place and to isolate any demonstrators who resort to violence, while ensuring that the use of force respects the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. The Commission therefore urges the State to investigate those events impartially and promptly, and to punish anyone responsible for them.

The IACHR notes calls to a general strike, and the decision made by various sectors of the population—including students and medical professionals—to exercise their right to protest. The Commission has also been informed of the stigmatizing comments made about the press by some high government officials, and of restrictions imposed on journalists to follow the ongoing vote counts.

Given that citizen protests may continue, the IACHR reminds the Plurinational State of Bolivia that it needs to presume the legality of all public protests and demonstrations. The fact that some groups or individuals exercise violence during a demonstration does not per se make that whole protest violent, and it does not warrant actions by the security forces to disperse protesters using force. Public demonstrations and freedom of expression enable the free democratic process, particularly in election contexts. The Commission therefore calls on the State and on demonstrators to engage in peaceful dialogue and to show respect for the will of the people, as it was expressed at the polls.

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. 268/19