Press Release

The IACHR presents its preliminary observations following its visit to Bolivia and requests an urgent international investigation take place into the serious human rights violations that have occurred in the country since the October 2019 elections

December 10, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent a delegation from its Executive Secretariat to carry out an observation visit to Bolivia between November 22 and 25, 2019. The visit took place at the invitation of the state and sought to gather information on the human rights situation in the country in relation to the political and social crisis that began around the recent elections on October 20.

The delegation from the IACHR’s Executive Secretariat visited the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, and Sacaba. During its visit, the delegation held meetings with high-ranking local and national state authorities from all branches of government. It also met with multiple groups of people and organizations from various sectors of society, received their testimonies and documentation, and visited hospitals, detention centers, ombuds’ offices, and communities affected by the violence. On its first day in the country, the IACHR delegation met with representatives from the Office of the President, the Cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Institute of Forensic Investigations, as well as representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, including the prosecutor for La Paz, and representatives from the Public Ombud’s Office. That same day, the delegation spoke to representatives from the Office of the UN High Commissioner and visited the Mexican embassy in La Paz. On the second day, the delegation met with the Attorney General of Bolivia, the presidents of the Chamber of Senators and the Chamber of Deputies of the Legislative Assembly, the Special Anticrime Taskforce (FELCC), and the Court of Justice of La Paz Department. On the afternoon of the second day, they held a plenary meeting with various human rights organizations and a broad range of political parties and political organizations, indigenous organizations, victims’ associations, the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy in Bolivia (CONADE), the Episcopal Conference of Bolivia, journalist organizations, students, doctors, defenders, and various other citizen groups and movements. On the third day, the IACHR team met with members of the management of San Pedro Prison in La Paz and the Dutch Hospital in El Alto. The team later visited the Office of the Mayor of El Alto, where they were received by a team of government officials and local leaders. They then visited District No. 8 in El Alto, where they attended a plenary meeting with local residents, including victims of the recent violence and relatives of those who were killed during this. On the fourth day of the IACHR’s visit, the delegation traveled to Cochabamba, where it met with the mayor of Cochabamba, the chief of police of Cochabamba, the commander of the Seventh Division of the Army in Cochabamba, and the district attorney for Cochabamba Department. The delegation then traveled to the town of Sacaba, where they spoke to victims of the recent violence and their relatives, social leaders, and defenders. They also visited Viedma Hospital and the local Public Ombud’s offices, where they interviewed numerous people, including representatives of social and human rights organizations, government officials, victims, citizens, and an association of police officers’ families.

In response, the IACHR thanked the state of Bolivia for extending the invitation and for the openness, transparency, support, and assistance it provided with organizing and implementing the visit, including logistics and security. The IACHR values the efforts of the individuals and organizations who provided information and gave their testimonies to the IACHR technical team, especially those who fell victim to the violence that has swept the country during the recent social and political crisis.

The IACHR is publishing its preliminary observations on the human rights situation in Bolivia in this press release and underscores the fact that it is urgently requesting there be an independent international investigation into the events that have unfolded in the country since October 2019. In this sense, the IACHR welcomed the fact that its request coincides entirely with the intention expressed by the State of Bolivia in Diplomatic Note MPB-OEZ-NV 274-19 of December 10, 2019, in which the interim government stated that “this international investigation will look into the acts of violence and human rights violations that took place in Bolivia between October and December 2019,” and that “[we] fully agree that there should be an impartial international investigation which will determine exactly what took place during the recent violence in Bolivia.” In response, the IACHR values the government’s willingness to allow an independent investigation to take place. The focus of the IACHR’s work is maximizing the effectiveness of victims’ rights to justice, truth, reparation, and nonrepetition, regardless of when the serious human rights violations in question were perpetrated.

Prior to its November 2019 visit to Bolivia, the IACHR had closely monitored the human rights situation in the country through an on-site visit in 2006; a working visit by the rapporteur for Bolivia, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, in August 2018; the publication of two thematic reports—“Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: The Road Toward Strengthening Democracy in Bolivia,” in 2007, and on “Captive Communities: The Situation of the Guaraní Indigenous People and Contemporary Forms of Slavery in the Bolivian Chaco” in 2009; the publication of a follow-up report which was part of the IACHR’s 2009 Annual Report; the issuing of numerous press releases, including 13 between 2014 and 2019; the issuing of eight confidential requests for information to the state pursuant to Article 41 of the American Convention since 2014 on issues related to LGBT people’s rights, the minimum legal age for military service, the use of force in public protests, the situation of women judges, and the situation of children who are deprived of their freedom, among other issues; and ten thematic hearings since 2014 on issues such as judicial independence in Bolivia, sexual violence against adolescents, the reform of the criminal code and prison reform, the right to prior consultation, or the rights of victims of the dictatorship. At present, the IACHR has 91 petitions against the state of Bolivia at the initial assessment stage, 28 at the admissibility stage, and six at the merits stage. The latter relate to issues of personal integrity and torture, forced disappearance, sexual violence, and judicial protection. Likewise, the IACHR is currently overseeing friendly settlement procedures between the Bolivian state and victims of human rights violations. In 2011, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to protect the rights of a victim of the state who had sought refuge abroad; and since 1997 it has submitted a total of six cases against the state of Bolivia to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The focal point of the IACHR’s observations during its visit to Bolivia was the exercise of the right to engage in protest against the backdrop of the pervasive violence that erupted before and after the presidential and legislative elections in the country, in other words, from October 2019 to the present. To substantiate its observations, the IACHR’s technical team has drawn on a large number of testimonies and both official and unofficial documentary sources, which provide strong indications of human rights violations with serious repercussions for Bolivian society.

Time frame of the current crisis

The IACHR notes that the social protests and demonstrations in Bolivia were a response to the election that took place on October 20, and they noted that the intensity of these demonstrations has escalated since October. A broad range of civic and political sectors, ethnic groups, and social movements have taken part in them. Those who made recourse to violence during these demonstrations were a series of individuals from different groups. The acts that violated the rights of the people of Bolivia observed by the IACHR were perpetrated by different state agents during the protests. This wide-ranging, multisector involvement in these acts of violence is what makes the current sociopolitical crisis particularly complex, as is reflected in these preliminary observations. The recommendations that the IACHR has made to the state of Bolivia point to the urgent need to initiate a nationwide process of dialogue and reconciliation in order to calm the potentially violent sources of tension that underlie social relations in Bolivia today. The IACHR notes and appreciates the fact that the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia has condemned “all forms of violence and all situations in which the life and security of all members of Bolivian society may be jeopardized,” a vision which the organization shares.

The timeline of the crisis has already been outlined by the IACHR in its 2019 press releases. The IACHR has noted that when the OAS auditors’ report on the electoral process was published on November 10, then-president Evo Morales announced that new elections would be held and that all the members of the Plurinational Electoral Body would be replaced. According to publicly available information, the high command of the Armed Forces and the Bolivian Police Force asked President Morales to step down from office, a request he complied with, explaining that his decision was motivated by the desire to prevent the violence in the country from continuing after weeks of clashes. The escalating political crisis was compounded by the resignation of other high-ranking state authorities, such as the vice president, cabinet ministers, and the presidents of the legislative chambers; after which an interim government was established, with the endorsement of the Constitutional Tribunal. One key precedent to this process is the fact that in its 2018 Annual Report, the IACHR expressed its concern over the effects of the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal’s 2017 judgment annulling the results of the February 2016 constitutional referendum, in which the majority voted “no,” thus rejecting the constitutional amendment that the Legislative Assembly had previously approved, which sought to reform the scope of the presidential mandate to allow for continuous re-election for more than two terms of office. On December 5, 2018, as part of its 170th Period of Sessions, the IACHR held a hearing on the issue of presidential re-election in Bolivia. Within the Inter-American System of Human Rights (IASHR), the discussion around the right to re-election is currently the subject of advisory opinion proceedings that are underway before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Furthermore, in this context, in 2019, the IACHR also expressed its opinion on joint operations between the National Police Force and the Armed Forces. The aim of these operations was to maintain and re-establish public order, but they entailed an excessive use of force. A related matter is the issuing of Supreme Decree No. 4.078, which seeks to absolve members of the Armed Forces from criminal responsibility after taking part in operations to restore public order.

In response to the latter measure, in a press release published on November 19, 2019, the IACHR expressed its profound concern over the ways in which this decree would affect human rights during attempts to contain public protests. On this point, during its visit, the IACHR delegation received reports from various organizations and national human rights institutions about the use of this decree as a form of unrestricted amnesty for security forces. The Public Ombud’s Office reported that it had filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Tribunal to challenge the constitutionality of this measure, which was officially repealed on November 27.

The IACHR team received information alleging that the joint operations carried out by the Armed Forces and the Police Force have resulted in the loss of human lives during different incidents throughout the country, including the deaths that took place on November 11 in the Zona Sur–Pedregal area of La Paz municipality; the massacre in Sacaba, Cochabamba, on November 15; and the massacre in Senkata, El Alto, on November 19. The IACHR noted that Supreme Decree No. 4.078 was in force during the Sacaba and Senkata massacres. The IACHR reminded the state that according to inter-American human rights standards, Decree 4.078 is legally unenforceable due to its having been repealed, thus state agents who perpetrated any acts of violence while it was temporarily in force are not covered by any form of amnesty or nor are they exempt from responsibility.

The IACHR has also been informed that a legislative bill seeking to exempt President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro García from criminal liability has been presented and is currently being processed. On this point, the IACHR warns that under inter-American standards, any amnesty laws or similar legislation seeking to exempt those who are responsible for serious human rights violations from criminal liability are inadmissible, regardless of the rank or level of command of the individuals in question.

Social protests: the focal point and common denominator of recent events

During its visit, the IACHR delegation received repeated reports on the excessive use of force by the Police Force and Armed Forces as they attempted to contain the social protests that have been taking place throughout Bolivia. According to these reports, in the course of the police repression of these protests and marches, several people have allegedly been wounded after being beaten or shot at or as a result of the indiscriminate use of tear gas or blunt objects.

With regard to these protests, the IACHR takes note of the information from the Ombud’s Office, which recorded a gradual increase in the number of people who were wounded, which went from 466 people on November 8 to at least 804 people on November 22. This figure includes the people who were injured during the Sacaba and Senkata massacres. The IACHR noted that some people were allegedly wounded by other protesters and social groups during the clashes and law enforcement officers were also injured during events such as the protests in Plaza Abaroa on October 24, where three police officers were reportedly wounded.

Likewise, the IACHR highlighted the information it received indicating that on October 22, while attempting to break into the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, some protesters were allegedly blocked from doing so by the police, who beat them and used teargas, leaving several people wounded, including a sixteen-year-old girl. According to information provided by the Ombud’s Office, on October 31, several groups of young people attempted to enter the Palace of Government in Plaza Murillo in La Paz. They were acting in a highly aggressive manner and were accompanied by miners carrying dynamite. They were reportedly prevented from entering the building by the police force, who used teargas, beat the protesters, and responded in other ways that caused injuries to them and other civilians who were passing by.

The IACHR noted that the gradual unfolding of the recent political and electoral events in Bolivia has led to the escalation of demonstrations and confrontations, which have been becoming increasingly violent. The IACHR noted that the American Convention on Human Rights protects the right to social protest and imposes strict obligations on the state to respect and guarantee this right and to refrain from interfering when people exercise it, except when necessary to protect them and guarantee public order, which it must do making minimum use of repressive force and no use of lethal armed force whatsoever. The IACHR also urged the state to make progress on providing reparation for those who were injured during these acts of violence and for their families.

The IACHR also called on the state to cease the acts of violence being perpetrated by public law enforcement officers and private groups acting in association or collusion with the former or whose acts are tolerated by them. It also urged the state to guarantee that anyone who is injured during the current sociopolitical situation receives the comprehensive medical and health treatment to which they are entitled under the American Convention.

Incitement to violence and ethnic and racial discrimination

The IACHR noted that in several cases, the recent demonstrations and protests degenerated into collective violence, much of which was in some way racist or discriminatory. The IACHR is alarmed by the hate speech and incitement to violence that different individuals in the country have resorted to. On this point, the IACHR was informed that both public officials and private individuals have used such speech and incited violence, and that both groups have accused each other of inciting the general public to act violently. On several occasions, this coincided with the state’s decision to prosecute members of the opposition, who it accused of having committed the crimes of treason, terrorism, and incitement to violence.

In fact, both the ruling party and the opposition have accused one another of inciting the general public to make recourse to violence.

The IACHR noted that the statements of those who took part in demonstrations were consistent, as all of them said they were protesting against patterns and acts of racism and discrimination. The IACHR also drew attention to the information provided by the Ombud’s Office, in which it reports that it has recorded dozens of racist and discriminatory acts in recent weeks, particularly verbal acts of violence and some cases of arrests and public humiliation on racial or gender-based grounds.

The acts of racism and discrimination that were described to the IACHR include those committed against so-called mujeres de pollera [literally, skirt-wearing women], in other words, indigenous women or women of indigenous and campesino ancestry who wear traditional clothing as part of their culture and who make up the visible majority of the Bolivian population. In their statements, various people told the IACHR that they had joined the demonstrations and social protests because in their speech, political organizations or specific social groups had humiliated or debased these women, who include the protesters’ mothers, sisters, aunts, or grandmothers. Various witnesses observed that mujeres de pollera had been killed, beaten, injured, and humiliated through recurring acts such as cutting their hair.

The IACHR also noted the impact that the current situation has had on the rights of Bolivia’s indigenous people, who make up most of the population. This includes impacts on indigenous people’s right to cultural integrity as a result of the burning, destruction, and lack of respect for the Wiphala emblem, the cultural symbol of Bolivia’s indigenous population. Those who have insulted this by burning and destroying it include civic leaders and private citizens acting in different official spaces such as the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, and in public spaces, such as Cochabamba’s main square. Videos of police officers in Santa Cruz cutting the symbol from their uniforms have also gone been circulated extensively through online media. These acts immediately gave rise to indignation and offense among broad sectors of Bolivian society, particularly indigenous and peasant communities, and were one of the reasons that prompted many people to join the demonstrations.

On this point, the IACHR noted that hate speech and incitement to violence are prohibited under the American Convention, and are particularly grave when they are employed by public officials or social leaders to aggravate situations of violence and social tension. Officials, leaders, and other people who engage in this kind of incitement or use such discourse must be held accountable for the consequences that their actions have on the human rights of the Bolivian population. As per the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Bolivia’s indigenous peoples have the right to the integrity and dignity of their cultures.

Arrests and arbitrary detentions

According to the information the IACHR delegation gathered, hundreds of people were arrested between the start of the protests and the time of the IACHR’s visit. The IACHR noted that, according to the report published by the Attorney General’s Office on November 26, 2019, most of those who remain under arrest are being held in pretrial detention. Likewise, the information the IACHR has received suggests that these people are being held in prison, reintegration centers, police detention centers, and court holding cells, and that on multiple occasions their arrests were not preceded by a court order but were instead implemented as a preventive police measure for which there were little or no legal grounds.

In this regard, the IACHR delegation was informed that on October 22, the police allegedly arrested at least 21 young people who were among the demonstrators who clashed with law enforcement officers and burned down the Electoral Tribunal of Beni Department. The Ombud’s Office also noted that on November 12 it inspected the cells of the Special Task Force to Combat Crime (FELCC), where it found 28 people under arrest in connection with the protests in Ciudad Satélite de El Alto, four of whom were under the age of 18.

The Attorney General’s Office informed the IACHR in DGFSE Report No. 153/2019, which the IACHR was sent by the Public Prosecutor’s Office through official letter FGE/JLP No. 751/2019 and then via a State Diplomatic Note, that as of November 26, 364 people had been arrested in connection with the pre- and postelectoral violence, a large share of whom were captured without a prior court order having been issued, and many of whom are still being deprived of their freedom in many different parts of the country. When it visited the holding cells at the Court of Justice in La Paz department, the IACHR technical team observed that a thorough record is not being kept of the people who have been deprived of their freedom in these circumstances.

The IACHR received repeated reports of acts of physical and verbal abuse, such as beatings, being hit with the butts of firearms, insults, threats, and similar forms of aggression being inflicted on people at the time of their arrest by law enforcement officers. In this regard, the IACHR noted the report published by the Ombud’s Office on November 22, which records that 18 of the 22 people under arrest in the FELCC cells had sustained injuries to different parts of their bodies, two of which were serious, and all required medical attention but had not been given access to this.

Some of the people who were being held at San Pedro Prison in La Paz reported to the IACHR that they had been beaten and insulted by police officers at the time of their arrest and were forced to kneel and were subjected to other forms of physical abuse. Bolivia’s Torture Prevention Service (SEPRET) reported that people who had been arrested in recent weeks were allegedly being taken to places other than prisons and penitentiaries to be deprived of their freedom, and were allegedly subjected to physical punishments including beatings, gassing, and other attacks to their integrity. SEPRET also reported that its staff had been prevented from accessing some detention centers throughout the country. The IACHR took note that the director of SEPRET resigned from their post on November 18, allegedly after having been verbally requested to do so. The IACHR also received information on threats and attacks against people who are deprived of their liberty and on the fact that detailed records are not being kept on people who are taken to detention centers at the time of their arrest. This makes these people very vulnerable and exposes them to significant risks of becoming victims of torture or forced disappearance.

The IACHR noted that the state is under international obligation to provide special protection for the rights of people who are deprived of their freedom because they are in a particularly vulnerable situation, for which reason it urged the state to comply immediately with this basic international obligation. It also emphasized the need to protect people who are deprived of their freedom and who have given their testimonies to the IACHR committee, especially at San Pedro Prison, where various people under arrest said they had received threats from both other prisoners and their police guards.

Massacres and killings

The IACHR delegation learned that 36 people had lost their lives from the start of the crisis up to November 27. During its visit, the delegation received large quantities of information on two massacres that took place in Sacaba and Senkata on November 15 and 19, respectively, in which at least 18 people lost their lives.

The IACHR received testimonies stating that members of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba arrived to take part in a peaceful demonstration in Sacaba municipality to demand the return of Evo Morales’s government and express their disagreement with the interim government. A police cordon had allegedly been established at the Huayllani bridge at kilometer 10 of the Cochabamba highway, which was made up of a combination of the police officers and members of the Armed Forces. When the demonstrators tried to pass the cordon, they were initially met with verbal instructions that the Ombud’s Office was on its way to intervene. However, according to the information the IACHR has received, moments later the police and military officers present allegedly opened fire on the civilians and also attacked them using teargas and by beating and kicking them. Nine people were reportedly killed in these events: Omar Calle, César Sipe, Juan López, Emilio Colque, Lucas Sánchez, Plácido Rojas Delgadillo, Armando Carvallo Escobar, Marco Vargas Martínez, and Roberto Sejas. Numerous people who were admitted to different hospitals in Sacaba and Cochabamba also sustained injuries, including gunshot wounds.

The IACHR noted that there are different versions of how the events in question unfolded. On the one hand, some state authorities, including the Institute of Forensic Investigations (IDIF) and police authorities, have accused the demonstrators of shooting at one another, on the grounds of the caliber of the bullets that were found in the bodies of the dead and the injured. On the other hand, the numerous testimonies received by the IACHR agree that the demonstrators were unarmed, were moving forward peacefully on their own initiative, and were attacked out of the blue by the police using firearms, teargas canisters, using batons, and other weapons. The commander of the Cochabamba police force testified that police helicopters were involved in the operation.

The Senkata massacre took place on November 19. According to the information the IACHR received, a group of Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) supporters created a blockade around the hydrocarbon plant in Senkata district in El Alto. That morning, 60 container vehicles carrying gasoline and natural gas were allowed to leave the plant, after which the demonstrators allegedly tore down one of the plant’s outer walls, at which point they were stopped by members of the Police Force and the Army using firearms. Nine people died of gunshot wounds: Devi Posto Cusi, Pedro Quisberth Mamani, Edwin Jamachi Paniagua, José Colque Patty, Juan José Tenorio Mamani, Antonio Ronald Quispe, Clemente Mamani Santander, Rudy Cristian Vásquez Condori, and Calixto Huanacu Aguilar. The fatalities included several people who were apparently not part of the blockade but were simply passing through the area on their way home or to work. Numerous people also sustained gunshot wounds or were injured after being beaten, inhaling gas, or for other related reasons, and were treated at various hospitals in El Alto. As was the case with the Sacaba massacre, public officials from both the police force and forensic bodies have requested information on whether the bullets that killed these citizens were fired from regulation law enforcement weapons. On this point, the victims themselves have repeatedly made public statements, including to the IACHR, arguing that the group of people in question were demonstrating in a nonviolent fashion and were the target of repression by state agents using firearms. It has also been publicly reported that the lifeless bodies of several people who were killed in the massacre disappeared, allegedly after being collected by law enforcement officers, and no further information has since been provided on them. The IACHR was specifically informed that this was the case for a campesina woman and a girl of about 12 years of age. The victims of the massacre all argue that there were far more fatal victims than the nine that have been reported to date.

The IACHR emphatically condemns the Sacaba and Senkata massacres, which appear to have involved grave human rights violations. In the IACHR’s view, it is appropriate to describe these events as massacres, given the number of people who lost their lives in the same way and at the same time and place, and because the acts in question were committed against a specific group of people. Furthermore, the patterns of injuries that have been recorded point strongly to extrajudicial killing practices. The right to life, which is protected under the American Convention, is inviolable and is a necessary condition for the exercise of all other human rights. The organs of the IASHR have repeatedly stated that the use of force by states must conform to the principles of exceptionality, legality, necessity, and proportionality. The IACHR reminded the Bolivian state that lethal force cannot be used merely to maintain or restore public order: the only legitimate reason for state law enforcement agents to use lethal force is to protect human life and physical integrity from real, imminent threats. As a consequence, the IACHR urged the state to immediately implement mechanisms to prohibit and effectively prevent the use of lethal force as a means to maintain public order during demonstrations. It also repeated that firearms and ammunition should not be used to manage social protests or demonstrations and that members of the police force all the military who come into contact with demonstrators should not be carrying firearms or other lethal weapons. The IACHR urged the Bolivian state to comply immediately with its international obligation to investigate, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for these criminal acts.

In addition to the deaths recorded during the Sacaba and Senkata massacres, the technical team received reports regarding the murders of Beltrán Paulino Condori Aruni, 21, and Percy Romel Conde Noguera, 32, who were reportedly killed by gunshot wounds; and of Juan Marín Félix Taco, 18, whose cause of death has not been determined, all of whom died during the response to a protest by the inhabitants of the Ovejuyo, Pedregal, Rosales, and Chasquipampa areas in La Paz between November 10 and 11. According to the information provided by the Ombud’s Office, these deaths and several injuries occurred when police and military forces entered the place where the protest was unfolding and allegedly made excessive, disproportionate use of force.

According to the information the IACHR has received, 24-year-old Miguel Ledezma González was also killed on that same day, apparently after being wounded by nonregulation metal pellets during a clash between protesters and police and military forces in Sacaba. The IACHR was also informed of the deaths of other people, including law enforcement agents, in events that occurred in different parts of the country.

The IACHR delegation was also informed of the deaths of several people during violent clashes between different groups of individuals during the demonstrations, including 45-year-old Filemón Soria Díaz on November 11, whose corpse was found in Cochabamba with its hands and feet bound. The cause of death appears to have been strangulation with a rope. On November 12, 35-year-old Juan José Mamani died in Cochabamba after being beaten to death by a group of people; and Marcelino Jarata Estrada died in Potosí from a gunshot wound. In Santa Cruz, in the Montero area, Mario Salvatierra and Marcelo Terrazas were both shot dead on October 30, as was the minor Roberth C.S., who was also shot on November 13 in Santa Cruz. These deaths occurred during clashes between people who were blockading roads and supporters of anti-MAS groups, which apparently included snipers.

Given the seriousness of these violent events, the IACHR condemned the loss of human life during this wave of violence around the elections. It also called on the Bolivian state to comply with its international obligations and investigate and clarify each of these events so as to establish who was responsible for them and to prosecute and sanction them, while also providing comprehensive reparation for victims and their families.

The IACHR noted that the acts of violence in question are extremely serious and apparently involved both public law enforcement agencies and different social sectors against a backdrop of social upheaval and unrest, in which conflicting versions of events have emerged. Furthermore, it is not clear whether Bolivia’s institutions are in a fit state or have the capacity to comply with the state’s international obligations investigate, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for these events. In the IACHR’s opinion, this is a common state of affairs, in which the state is facing the need to allow an international group of independent experts to conduct an independent, impartial, international investigation into these events to assist national authorities with their own investigations.

Injured civilians

Exactly how many people have been injured in the recent violence in Bolivia is not yet known, but the figures currently stand at over 800 and will be higher when the complete records of the victims of recent weeks have been consolidated. Calculations of the number of people who have been injured in the events of recent weeks have varied, as can reasonably be expected. For example, as of November 8, the Ombud’s Office had recorded 466 people with injuries, including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. As of November 18, these figures had increased to 715, and by the time the ombud’s preliminary report was published on November 22, they had risen to 804. Many of these injuries were allegedly caused by the Police Force and the Armed Forces during their repression of various protests and demonstrations, which involved beatings, firearms, teargas, and blunt objects. Other people were injured during clashes with other individuals or groups. These figures include the people who were injured during the Sacaba and Senkata massacres. The IACHR noted that many law enforcement officers were also injured in these clashes.

Many of the wounded received some form of medical care at different hospitals and clinics, and several are still in hospital. The IACHR visited some of these people in hospitals in El Alto and Cochabamba and observed first-hand how serious their injuries were and how concerned they were over the cost of the medical treatment they have to cover. However, it was also informed that a large number of the injured have allegedly not had access to healthcare services, especially those who are being deprived of their freedom. The injured and their families repeatedly expressed concerns to the IACHR regarding their lack of money to pay for their medication, tests, and treatment that are not covered by any type of health insurance and will be discontinued if they are not paid for.

The right to personal integrity is one of the fundamental human rights that are protected by international human rights law. The state is obliged to investigate these events and take all necessary measures to remedy violations for which state agents are identified as being responsible. As per the right to health, states have a nonderogable obligation to guarantee the right of access to healthcare facilities, goods, and services for those who require them. When people are unable to exercise this right themselves, as is the case with the injured and sick, states must take the necessary measures to facilitate this access, which may include finding such people, taking them in, and providing immediate care for them. This includes states’ obligations to take positive measures to ensure the provision of comprehensive health, especially in life-threatening circumstances. States must also refrain from preventing healthcare personnel from providing medical treatment to people who need it in these kinds of situations.

The IACHR called on the state to cease the acts of violence being perpetrated by state law enforcement officers and private groups acting in association or collusion with them or whose acts are tolerated by them. It also urged the state to guarantee that anyone who is injured during the current sociopolitical circumstances receives the comprehensive medical and health treatment to which they are entitled under the American Convention.

Criminalization and persecution of political dissidents or those who are perceived as such

The IACHR delegation also received reports concerning the judicial persecution of a number of people through criminal investigations or legal proceedings that were opened on the basis of their political opinions, convictions, or positions, including their work as public officials during the MAS administration. Specifically, senior state officials at the ministerial level within the current interim government have issued public statements regarding the filing of reports and the opening of criminal investigations against MAS members on the grounds of treason and terrorism. The climate of judicial and extrajudicial persecution of dissidents and opponents has triggered a domino effect of mass resignations by public officials at all levels. For example, the Mayor’s Association of Bolivia reported to the IACHR that no less than 65 local authorities allegedly resigned from office as part of the pattern of pressure and intimidation that is affecting daily life throughout the country.

It is also public knowledge that criminal investigations have been launched into those who were spokespeople of the Supreme Electoral Court (a plurinational electoral body) at the time of the October 20 elections, as a result of which they are now deprived of their freedom or are fugitives. This is the case for spokesperson Antonio Costas, whom the IACHR’s technical team met at San Pedro Prison in La Paz, along with his family, and received their testimonies on how exculpatory testimonial evidence was used and evaluated in his trial, and on how his arrest was publicly broadcast through the media. The IACHR expressed its concern over his legal situation and that of the other spokespeople who are under arrest or investigation and urged that his procedural rights and other human rights be guaranteed as per the American Convention.

Furthermore, on November 17, it was announced that a special mechanism was to be created within the Attorney General’s Office to enable legislators and other individuals to be arrested and prosecuted, allegedly on the grounds of subversion and treason. There were also reports of threats that criminal proceedings for treason would be opened against a group of Argentinian defenders and activists in Santa Cruz.

The IACHR also became aware that announcements, pamphlets, and information seeking to persecute MAS officials and activists are being spread online through social media. In this regard, various former ministers described to the IACHR how lists containing their home addresses, telephone numbers, families’ addresses, and other personal information are being circulated via WhatsApp, Facebook, and other social media, along with photomontages in which their faces appear under “wanted” signs and similar phrases. In several cases, the spread of this personal information proceeded their homes or those of their relatives being raided, vandalized, or set on fire.

The IACHR noted that during its visit it also received complaints that political dissidents had been subjected to instances and patterns of legal persecution during the Morales administration. Although these events fall outside the timeframe of observations of this visit, it is clear to the IACHR that if verified, they entail human rights violations that must be investigated, prosecuted, and sanctioned in a timely fashion.

Freedom of expression and the role of the press during the crisis

During its visit to Bolivia, the IACHR delegation met with journalists, press workers, and community-based and independent media workers in the cities of La Paz and Cochabamba, where it was able to identify a series of violations of the right to freedom of expression and access to public information. On this occasion, the IACHR delegation also received information from civil society organizations and the Ombud’s Office, which issued a statement on October 28 demanding that the social sectors engaged in demonstrations, the state, the police, and the media all guarantee the safety and physical integrity of journalists as they go about their work. Likewise, the IACHR was informed that on November 16, the Federation of Press Workers’ Unions (FSTP) of Cochabamba spoke out against dangers being faced by the press and the risks being posed to the lives and integrity of journalists covering social protests and demonstrations in that region of the country.

On this point, during the visit, the IACHR identified two key moments that sum up the current status of freedom of expression and access information in Bolivia: prior to the resignation of then-president Evo Morales on November 10, and after this, when the National Police Force mutinied and the Armed Forces asked then-president Morales to resign, which gave way to an interim government presided over by Senator Jeanine Añez.

According to information gathered by the IACHR, at least 50 journalists from 20 media outlets from Bolivia and abroad were allegedly assaulted between October 20 and December 2. These attacks were allegedly carried out by demonstrators and the National Police Force and the Armed Forces while making excessive use of force. Specifically, it was reported that during the process and demonstrations, journalists from the following media outlets were allegedly attacked: the newspapers El Deber, La Razón, Página Siete, Los Tiempos, and Opinión; the Fides News Agency (ANF); the television channels ATB, UNITEL, Gigavisión, Red Uno, Bolivisión, PAT, and Tele C; and the radio stations Pio XII and Radio San Simón, among others. According to the information that the IACHR received, these attacks allegedly came from both groups of demonstrators, that is, supporters of then-president Evo Morales and those who were calling for him to resign and for the October election results to be declared invalid. The reported aggressions included beatings, insults, the seizure and destruction of equipment, and preventing journalists from covering events. For example, the motorcycle of journalist Adalid Peredo from Red Uno was reportedly set alight at the end of October while he was covering the civilian strike in Cochabamba. There were also reports that several journalists were held prisoner in El Alto when pro-Morales demonstrators allegedly surrounded the airport and prevented the departure of the president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, who was on his way to La Paz to deliver a letter to the then-president requesting his resignation.

According to the information that was shared with the IACHR, on November 8, the violence in Bolivia reportedly escalated as the police mutiny spread to the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre, and Santa Cruz. The IACHR was informed that in the absence of public law enforcement agencies, there were allegedly instances of looting and arson at political party headquarters, the private homes of politicians and political leaders, state-owned and independent media outlets, and attacks and harassment targeting authorities. These included setting fire to the premises of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Chapare and MAS, out of which the Kawsachun Coca Community Radio operated; and taking over the premises of various state-owned media outlets and private channels such as TVU, Red Uno, and UNITEL.

During the visit, the IACHR was also informed that on November 9, the director of the state radio station Radio Tupak Katari and the newspaper Prensa Rural, José Aramayo, was tied to a tree and humiliated for hours by residents of the Miraflores area of La Paz, an incident that was reportedly documented by Sebastián Moro, the correspondent for Argentinian newspaper Página 12, who was found unconscious in his home a day later with injuries to different parts of his body, and who died six days later. The journalist’s family reported that his research and his equipment had been stolen. They called for an investigation to clarify the circumstances in which he died.

Furthermore, according to the available information, on November 9, groups of people demonstrating against the Morales government reportedly surrounded the premises of the state-owned media outlets Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva in La Paz, preventing around 30 workers from leaving forcing them to stop transmission. The IACHR also received reports that on November 10, in the municipality of Yapacaní (Santa Cruz), MAS activists reportedly took over and destroyed Radio Ichilo’s premises. Likewise, the Red Uno and Televisión Universitaria de La Paz channels interrupted transmission after receiving threats that their premises would be attacked, as did the UNITEL network, which reported that its broadcasting station for La Paz and El Alto had been attacked. The television station Abya Yala also suspended its press services, reporting that its workers had been attacked by anti-Morales demonstrators after attending a press conference, when they had threated to blow up the television station using dynamite.

The IACHR was also told that on November 12, the newspapers Página Siete in La Paz and Los Tiempos and Opinión in Cochabamba stopped publishing the print editions of their publications due to the atmosphere of insecurity and intimidation around journalists and the media. The newspaper El Día de Santa Cruz reported that it has not published its print edition since October 23 due to the open-ended strike in the region.

The IACHR noted that statements from high-ranking government officials also contributed to the current silencing of the press. On November 14, the newly appointed Minister of Communications, Roxana Lizárraga, threatened national and international journalists with criminal proceedings on the grounds of treason, stating that “journalists or pseudojournalists who are engaging in treason must act in accordance with the law, because anything that either Bolivian or foreign journalists do in our country to cause treason must answer to Bolivian law” (sic). She also said that “these journalists have already been identified” and that the Minister of Internal Affairs “will take appropriate action.”

The IACHR has recorded acts of aggression against foreign journalists from media outlets including Página 12, TN, Crónica, América, Telefé, TeleSur, and Aljazeera. It was also informed that Aljazeera reporter Teresa Bo was deliberated teargassed by members of the police while she was reporting live on the protests. According to the information collected by the IACHR, most foreign correspondents left the country due to the alleged lack of guarantees around their safety, the pressure that was put on them by those demonstrating against the Morales administration, and smear campaigns that were allegedly shared through different social media that included photographs of them and the addresses of the hotels where they were staying.

It was also reported that on November 15, ATB television network journalist and cameraman Sergio Figueroa was allegedly attacked by campesinos in Sacaba who beat him, tried to confiscate his equipment, and tried to sprinkle gasoline on him as they protested the lack of coverage in the Bolivian press of the massacre that had taken place there. According to reports, as part of the same episode, a firecracker was allegedly set off by unknown individuals in the midst of the journalists and military personnel who were on the scene at the time, injuring four reporters: Fernando Bustamante, César Baldelomar, Ronald Aguilar, and Sergio Figueroa. It was also reported that six other journalists were stoned by the demonstrators, who again criticized them for the lack of media coverage of the Sacaba massacre. In response to these allegations, several media workers argued that they were not in a position to cover the social protests demonstrations in Bolivia due to the lack of security-related guarantees in place.

It was also reported that people who were allegedly part of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz telephoned the political analyst and journalist Carlos Valverde and threatened that he would suffer repercussions if he continued to criticize the transition government and the president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho. More recently, on December 3, the IACHR received reports that Alejandro Salazar, the cartoonist at La Razón newspaper, had told the newspaper’s management that he had decided to stop publishing his cartoons as the raids and intimidation he was being subjected to meant that he was unable to continue his work. During the visit, the IACHR delegation was also informed that the television signals of international channels TeleSur and Actualidad RT were being blocked by private companies, such as Cotas and Comteco, and by Entel, a state-owned company. There was allegedly no justification for their doing so.

Furthermore, according to information the IACHR received, since the resignation of former president Evo Morales, false Twitter accounts have been used as part of the campaign to support the president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, and the interim government led by Jeanine Añez. The data allegedly shows that around 68,000 accounts have been created, which tweeted 14 hashtags that were then were then retweeted by 252,090 different accounts, reaching a total of 1,048,575 tweets between November 9 and 17. The hashtags in question include: #BoliviaLibreyDemocratica (#FreeDemocraticBolivia), #NoNoGolpeEnBolivia (#NotACoupBolivia), #EvoEsFraude (#EvoIsFraud), and #BoliviaUnida (#UnitedBolivia), among others.

During the IACHR delegation’s visit to the country, they also received complaints from journalists working at independent and community-based media outlets, who had decided to report on events through social media and blogs due to the alleged lack of coverage of the conflict by national media outlets. According to these reports, the journalists in question have received death threats and been intimidated by private groups such as the so-called Cochala Resistance. Journalists, victims’ relatives, and the injured have spoken out against the lack of access to information during the transition to the interim government. For example, it was reported that the relatives of those who were wounded in the Sacaba massacre were denied information at Cochabamba’s Viedma Hospital.

In response to all of these points, the IACHR reminded the state that the press plays a fundamental role in any democratic society, especially at times of elevated social tension and violence, when the work of journalists is a way to speak out against human rights violations and guarantee collective freedom of expression—that is, the right of society as a whole to be informed of what is going on. The role of the press during social protests is equally important, and the state must ensure that journalists can go about their work without being arrested or subjected to threats, aggression, or other restrictions.

The IACHR also reminded the state of Bolivia that it is the duty of public officials to ensure that their statements do not violate the rights of those who contribute to public debate by expressing and publishing their thoughts, such as journalists, the media, and human rights organizations. They must also be aware of the context in which they express their ideas to ensure that these do not interfere directly or indirectly with or otherwise jeopardize the rights of those who seek to contribute to public debate by expressing and publishing their ideas.

Asylum and refuge

The IACHR team was informed that several officials who were part of the cabinet of former president Evo Morales have allegedly received asylum at embassies in Argentina and Mexico. However, the interim government reportedly refused to issue the laissez-passers or safe-conducts these former officials required to leave the country, citing various reasons for this, including the fact that they were the subject of criminal investigations or that they were involved in ongoing negotiations. The IACHR noted that some relatives of these former government officials have been granted safe-conducts but not the officials themselves, which could affect the integrity of their families.

Use of violence by private groups and individual citizens

The IACHR stressed that the recent demonstrations and protests have continually featured violent clashes between private individuals. From the first day of the civilian strike, clashes were recorded in the Plan 3000 area of Santa Cruz in which at least one person was injured. Likewise, people who were interviewed by the IACHR delegation reported that private groups of different sizes participated directly in the violence using different kinds of weapons and also noted that clashes entailing varying degrees of violence took place during demonstrations. According to the information the IACHR received, these groups sometimes acted in association with state law enforcement agents or were tolerated by these. Specifically, this is the case of the armed, motorized group that calls itself “the Cochala Resistance,” which has been repeatedly accused of playing a part in social unrest by exercising violent control over and intimidating broad swathes of society, particularly affecting people’s personal integrity and freedom of movement. Some of these private groups control specific areas and limit movement in large sectors of different cities, including Plaza Murillo in La Paz, where high-level government offices and the legislature are located.

The IACHR was informed that on November 9, numerous people from Chuquisaca and Potosí traveled to La Paz to demand the resignation of then-president Evo Morales, but were allegedly arrested and tortured in the Vila Vila area by a group of private individuals from the Huancane neighborhood who blocked the road, boarded the buses the demonstrators were traveling on, forced both the men and women on them to strip, tied them up, forced them to kneel and lie on the hot asphalt, then stoned them, doused them with gasoline, and beat them as well as stealing their documents and belongings. At the same time, other groups with ties to MAS allegedly blockaded different places along the same highway to prevent these demonstrators from entering La Paz. These clashes reportedly resulted in at least 34 people being injured. The demonstrators retreated to the town of Challapata where both sides took hostages from the other side, a situation that was resolved when the Ombud’s Office intervened.

It was also reported that activist and defender Julio Llanos, an elderly man who advocated for the rights of victims of the dictatorship, was beaten on October 29 by two people who were taking part in a demonstration opposite the place where he usually went about his activism outside the Ministry of Justice in La Paz. He died as a result of this attack after being hospitalized for more than a month.

The IACHR also learned that between October 28 and 31, groups of miners with ties to MAS allegedly detonated large quantities of explosives to scatter the protesters in La Paz, without police or government authorities preventing them from doing so or imposing legal sanctions on them.

According to information that the Ombud’s Office provided to the IACHR, Mario Salvatierra, Marcelo Terrazas, and Marcelino Jarata died in Montero municipality on October 30 during clashes between demonstrators and people who wanted them to leave the area. All three allegedly died of bullet wounds from weapons whose caliber did not match the regulation firearms used by state security forces, according to the Institute of Forensic Investigations. Similarly, a clash in Vinto municipality between supporters of the civilian strike and groups from the countryside led to the death of the minor Limbert Guzmán Vásquez, apparently due to a blunt force fracture to his skull.

The IACHR noted that the violence also led to numerous acts of arson, looting, vandalism, and intimidation. Students from the Universidad Mayor de San Simón demonstrated by walking through the streets of Cochabamba on October 23, and a group of them destroyed the building that houses the headquarters of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba and MAS. On October 21, the building housing the Chuquisaca Department Electoral Tribunal was burned down by a group of demonstrators, resulting in three people being injured, and on October 22, demonstrators burned down the offices of the Potosí Department Electoral Tribunal, the Beni Department Electoral Tribunal, and the Beni Civic Registry Office, along with the Santa Cruz Department Electoral Tribunal.

On November 9, they also burned down the house of the governor of Oruro department, who resigned publicly from his post, and that of the mayor of Oruro, whose radio station was burned down, prompting him to resign. The IACHR noted that the homes and other properties of the sister of former president Evo Morales, the governor of Chuquisaca Department, former congressman and president of the Chamber of Deputies Víctor Borda (whose brother was taken hostage), MAS senator Omar Aguilar, and MAS department assemblywoman Sandra Siñani were burned or destroyed and looted. Similar actions targeted the homes of congressman David Ramos; the former minister of Mining and Metallurgy, César Navarro, and that of his mother in the city of Potosí; former president Evo Morales; former cabinet minister Juan Ramón Quintana; the mayor of El Alto, Soledad Chapetón; the indigenous leader Nelson Condori, spokesperson for the Single Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia, in the municipality of Guaqui; and the dean of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés and CONADE authority Waldo Albarracín.

In response, the IACHR emphasized that over 40 public officials from all levels and branches of government resigned in quick succession out of fear of falling victim to further acts of violence. Those who resigned included senators, congresspeople, mayors, governors, ministers, and deputy ministers. Several relatives of public officials—including spouses, children, parents, and siblings—also fell victim to violence, attacks, arrests, insults, other types of aggression. The IACHR also noted that on November 10, private companies and organizations were affected by looting, arson, and vandalism, as was the case with the burning of 64 public buses in La Paz.

The IACHR recalled that the state is obliged to investigate acts of violence, looting, arson, and vandalism in which private individuals have taken part and to identify, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for such acts, especially when people were injured in the course of them. The state is also obliged to prevent private groups from exercising violence and to investigate events in which they have taken part. Wherever state authorities have colluded, participated in, or permitted such acts either actively or passively, the state of Bolivia must investigate and sanction public officials who allowed such behavior to take place.

Blockading of roads and supplies of basic goods and services

The IACHR noted that since October 23, when the general strike began, the free movement of people and goods throughout the country began to be blocked by demonstrators at airports and highways and in the streets of major cities. These blockades affected social leaders, such as the president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, and national legislators and ordinary citizens, who were allegedly forced to comply with the restrictions on movement and access imposed by different social sectors and public law enforcement officers. In this regard, the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies told the IACHR that they were harassed and interrogated before being allowed to enter the Legislative Assembly in La Paz. According to the information the IACHR received, some checkpoints are reportedly being operated by private armed groups acting in collusion with the Police Force and the Armed Forces.

The IACHR delegation was informed that the blockades have led to shortages of food, fuel, and basic goods and to increases in prices. The healthcare, education, and tourism sectors have also been affected.

Effects on institutions and public services

The IACHR has also been informed that public officials have fallen victim to violence during the current sociopolitical protests, including both civilian officials and members of the Police Force and the Armed Forces. The IACHR drew particular attention to the case of the mayor of Vinto municipality, Patricia Arce, who on November 6 was subjected to public humiliation and physical and verbal violence by a group of individuals through acts that included cutting her hair, soaking her in paint and other chemicals, partially removing her clothes, and forcing her to walk through the streets in public while onlookers shouted insults at her. The IACHR deemed these acts to be of the utmost seriousness and urged the state to investigate, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for them.

The IACHR has also been informed that various police officers died during the recent unrest. Specifically, it learned of the death of Police Sergeant Juan José Alcon Parra, who was attacked on November 11 when the police headquarters for the El Alto region were looted and occupied. It was also informed of the death of Lieutenant Colonel Heybert Antelo, the commander of the Tactical Police Operations Unit (UTOP) in La Paz, who died in the line of duty on November 12 after being ambushed at a blockade in the city of El Alto.

The IACHR also received information on violent mobs carrying out looting and arson attacks on public facilities. These included attacks and looting at the municipal hospital in La Portada district on November 10; the EPI-Sur Police Station in Cochabamba on November 11; the FELCC’s traffic control, radio patrol, and regional command offices in La Ceja, El Alto, on November 11; and Police Station No. 5 in Ventilla, El Alto, which was destroyed.

The IACHR noted with concern that groups of demonstrators have repeatedly surrounded state premises and public offices for different lengths of time and for different purposes, preventing government officials, employees, and citizens from entering and leaving. The delegation was informed that on November 4, the Palace of Justice in Santa Cruz was surrounded, as were the Attorney General’s Office and the Constitutional Court in Sucre. On November 5, demonstrators also surrounded the National Tax Department, Banco Unión, the National Customs Agency, the Attorney General’s Office, the YPFB, the INRA, the Immigration Department, and the Labor Department in Santa Cruz. That same day, a group of demonstrators surrounded the offices of the National Tax Department, Banco Unión, the Office of the Mayor, and the Office of the Governor of Oruro. On November 6, numerous public institutions in La Paz were surrounded, including the La Paz Department Court of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Education, and the Department of Labor.

The IACHR also noted that there have been repeated attempts to surround and occupy the Ombud’s Office, including on October 30 in Potosí, November 4 in Cochabamba, and November 6, 7, and 27 in La Paz.

The main outcome of these blockades has been to instill fear into the officials and citizens who are trapped inside the premises, while also preventing each organization from providing services to citizens for at least as long as the mob prevents them from leaving.

Initial conclusions

The IACHR noted with extreme concern that a number of serious human rights violations with wide-ranging and regrettable consequences have been recorded during the widespread sociopolitical violence that was unleashed in the period leading up to and following the general elections in Bolivia. This violence has entailed polarization, hostility, and hatred and is rooted in discrimination, intolerance, and racism that reaches far beyond the current wave of social protest, reaching to the deepest levels of Bolivian society and causing profound repercussions on daily life in the country.

The IACHR deemed that for any solution to the current sociopolitical process to be compatible with the American Convention on Human Rights, it must prioritize respect for human rights and democratic institutions, which are the foundations on which the rule of law rests. The transition to peace must take place through constitutionally established channels, and the current wave of violence and excessive use of force must end immediately. Building a broad-reaching, respectful national dialogue is imperative if Bolivia is to re-establish social harmony, peaceful coexistence, and social and political tolerance, in accordance with the human rights that are protected by the American Convention.

In this respect, the IACHR noted that the legislature has called for new elections to take place, which it sees as a positive step, and urged that the date of these be announced as soon as possible. The legal, political, and social significance of the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections implies that the state must adopt measures to guarantee that Bolivian citizens can fully exercise not only their political rights but all of their human rights.

The IACHR noted the recent issuing of Supreme Decree 4100, which establishes monetary compensation and the provision of healthcare services for the families of those who were killed and injured during the sociopolitical process and which stipulates that once this compensation has been paid out, victims’ families “shall be deemed to have had their grievances redressed before any international body.” The IACHR noted that a piece of national administrative legislation such as this cannot prevent or obstruct people from accessing the IASHR. The right to petition the IASHR is in no way affected by national measures of this sort because it is grounded in the state of Bolivia’s international treaty obligations. Furthermore, the IACHR emphasized that monetary compensation is only one component of the comprehensive reparation that the victims of electoral violence in Bolivia have a right to—the right to reparation also gives them legal grounds for claiming measures of satisfaction, justice, truth, rehabilitation, and guarantees of nonrepetition from the state before both Bolivian and international organizations.

The IACHR’s preliminary recommendations

Based on its observations and in light of the prevailing norms of the IASHR, particularly the American Convention on Human Rights, the IACHR made the following preliminary recommendations to the state of Bolivia:

1. Create an international mechanism to investigate the violence that has been unfolding in Bolivia since October 2019 and to provide this mechanism with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure people’s rights to truth and duly identify those responsible for the events. Specifically, this mechanism should take the form of an international group of independent experts.

2. Respect and guarantee the population’s full enjoyment of the rights to protest, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and political participation. In connection with this, ensure that security operations around protests and demonstrations are implemented using protocols that are in keeping with international standards regarding the use of force by law enforcement officers.

3. Take measures to end the current violence and the armed repression of social protests. As an example of such measures, suspend the mass deployment of members of the Armed Forces and police forces in the streets of Bolivian cities and towns and restore them to their normal peacetime duties and the standard criteria for how and where they should perform these. Immediately cease the repression of demonstrators and the arbitrary arrest of people taking part in protests, and guarantee the rights to life, integrity, and security of all people who are demonstrating and exercising their rights and public freedoms.

4. Dismantle specific armed groups that have exercised violence against the civilian population throughout the country, regardless of what side they are on.

5. Establish a program to provide immediate responses and comprehensive reparation for victims and their families.

6. Create a systematic record of people who were treated at public and private hospitals as a result of the recent social protests. These records must be specific and include the date of admission, cause of injury, any treatment provided, and, where appropriate, the cause of death. This information must be made public and be disaggregated at least by age and sex, and must provide sufficient information to allow actions to be taken to remedy the harm and damage that have been caused, including guarantees by the state that all those who were injured will be provided with comprehensive healthcare at no additional cost.

7. Provide safe-conducts to those who are being granted political asylum in Mexico and Argentina or at other embassies so that they can exercise their human right to seek and obtain asylum in a way that does not break up their family groups.

8. Strengthen the Ombud’s Office, protect the authorities and employees working at it, and respect its autonomy and independence such that it can go about its work without political interference of any sort.

9. Conduct an independent, focused legal review of all allegations made against people who were arrested and imprisoned during the protests and immediately release all those who are currently being arbitrarily or unjustifiably held in all types of detention facilities. Respect the due process guarantees for those who remain under arrest in connection with acts that are related to the protests and ensure that they have access to legal counsel and the administration of justice.

10. Guarantee the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in accordance with intra-American standards, particularly by protecting journalists and media workers from persecution, intimidation, harassment, and aggression of any kind, and by ceasing state actions that interfere with the media’s ability to freely go about its work. On this point, the state must ensure respect for the independence of the media and refrain from implementing direct or indirect forms of censorship.

11. Guarantee that journalists and media workers who are covering demonstrations are not arrested, threatened, attacked, or in any way prevented from exercising their profession. Their equipment and materials must not be destroyed or confiscated by public authorities. Protecting the right to freedom of expression implies that authorities must ensure that journalists are able to cover events of public interest like social protests.

12. Implement a process of dialogue and reconciliation from the highest levels of government that will make it possible for the latent tensions and hostility in Bolivian society to be dissipated.

13. Take steps to investigate, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for all acts of violence that were committed perpetrated during the protests.

14. It is the state’s duty to protect those who have testified before the IACHR and those who do so in the future. Without prejudice to the appropriateness of inter-American precautionary measures as a basic preventive measure in specific cases, the IACHR formally requested the Bolivian state to take the necessary steps to guarantee the rights to life, personal integrity, and security of each and every one of the people who testified before the IACHR during its visit and who engaged in some form of dialogue with the organization. The IACHR is particularly concerned regarding the situation of people who spoke to its team and are deprived of their freedom or in hospital. It urged the state to provide immediate protection for these individuals by fast-tracking effective measures to this end. The state must also refrain from retaliating against these people or allowing others to do.

15. Commit to establishing a Special Follow-up Mechanism on Human Rights in Bolivia that will operate within the country and play a part in calming the current troubled social context.
16. Invite the IACHR to carry out an on-site visit as soon as possible, which would make it possible for the organization to verify the human rights situation in the country over a longer period of time and include events, processes, and potential causes that predate the current restricted period of observation in its analysis, as these may play a major part in explaining the situation in the country.

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. 321/19