Press Release

The IACHR Calls on the State of Bolivia to Step Up Efforts to Establish a National Dialogue and to Prevent the Escalation of Violence in the Context of Recent Demonstrations

August 7, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) notes with concern the violence in the context of recent demonstrations in Bolivia. The Commission calls on the State to ensure dialogue with all actors involved in demonstrations held in the country in recent weeks, where some acts of violence have been perpetrated. The IACHR further calls on the State to preserve the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, and to protect at all times the human rights of Bolivians, particularly those who have COVID-19. The IACHR also calls for non-violence during demonstrations.

The Commission has closely monitored demonstrations organized by various social movements in Bolivia to protest over the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s decision of July 23, 2020, which postponed general elections in light of the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The IACHR knows that these protests have mainly involved marches, demonstrations, and road blockades in 78 urban and rural sites in La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro, Potosí, Beni, and El Alto.

According to publicly available reports, at least seven people were arrested in these protests, including a teenager, while an alleged case of police violence against an older person was reported in Cochabamba, along with the use of tear gas against demonstrators. The IACHR has also been informed that a police officer suffered eye injuries. The Commission stresses the State’s obligation to preserve the right to demonstrate, and notes that the use of force in protest contexts is a last resort that needs to be exceptional and must respect the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality, particularly when it involves older persons, children, and adolescents. The IACHR asks the State to ensure respect for due process and for judicial safeguards concerning detainees.

The Commission knows that several acts of violence have been perpetrated in recent weeks—allegedly by some demonstrators—against property and individuals, mainly police officers, journalists, and medical assistance vehicles and staff. The Commission further notes with concern reports that some groups who oppose the actions of demonstrators might take measures that would trigger violence among civilians. In this context, amid reports of inadmissible attacks on journalists and healthcare staff, the IACHR stresses how important it is for the right to freedom of assembly to be exercised peacefully and without weapons, in compliance with the standards of international law.

The Commission has warned with the utmost concern that road blockades—in some cases involving dynamite explosions and arson—have prevented an adequate distribution of food and hospital supplies including oxygen cylinders that were essential to assist individuals with respiratory symptoms caused by infection with COVID-19. According to publicly available reports, the Hospital Obrero in Oruro said it had exhausted its supplies of oxygen and reported the resulting death of at least four patients. This is particularly worrying given how fatal the pandemic has proved to be among specific vulnerable groups, including older persons and indigenous peoples.

The IACHR notes that the trade union federation Central Obrera Boliviana has said it ordered people who blockaded roads to allow ambulances, medicine, and oxygen to go through. The IACHR further notes State efforts to ensure the distribution of oxygen, by air if necessary. The IACHR calls on the State to implement the recommendations held in the Commission’s Resolution 4/2020, and to ensure the uninterrupted provision of food, medication, and other medical supplies, as well as the availability of any medical staff needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission further stresses that States must take proportionate action to prevent and avoid violence during protests, singling out individuals (whether demonstrators or others) whose actions endanger anyone’s life or physical integrity. However, the authorities need to bear in mind that other protesters would continue to have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly—that is, certain individuals’ violent actions do not entail that a whole protest can be considered non-peaceful.

Finally, the Inter-American Commission is aware of the specific challenges posed by efforts to exercise and protect the right to protest in the context of the ongoing pandemic (particularly considering the current dynamics within Bolivian society and recent precedents of conflict in political and electoral contexts). The IACHR therefore stresses its recommendation that the highest level of the State should lead a national dialogue and reconciliation process, with the aim of defusing the tension and hostilities that are latent within Bolivian society.

The IACHR values calls for dialogue issued from various sectors and it acknowledges the willingness of State authorities to launch talks with demonstrators, including meetings convened by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and mediation efforts conducted by the Ombudsperson’s Office. The IACHR asks all actors involved to pursue talks, in order to reach a solution to the issues that have led to these demonstrations.

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. 192/20