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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Bolivia

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Bolivia, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864667a73.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Since Mr. Evo Morales, the first indigenous President of the country, came to power in January 2006, the Government has worked for the adoption and implementation at both national and local level of a number of reforms to improve economic, social and cultural rights (especially the collective rights of indigenous peoples and peasant communities), to reinforce the fight against corruption, etc. This process was marked by the draft of a new Constitution to be put to a vote by referendum in 2008.

But there have also been strong reactions to these reforms and in 2007 several strikes and other forms of protest followed one after another over a period of months with almost no interruption.1 The work of the Constituent Assembly, set up in August 2006 to draft a new Constitution, exacerbated tensions between President Morales and his conservative opponents (often members of the traditionalist oligarchy), who claimed greater independence for the regions they governed. Thus, in Cochabamba in January 2007, supporters of Mr. Evo Morales started a movement to obtain the resignation of Mr. Manfredo Reyes Villa, Governor of the Cochabamba region and an opposition member who called for greater independence from central Government. These demonstrations resulted in violence, with dozens of people injured.2 At the beginning of 2007, the opposition also launched a campaign calling on the Assembly to consider transferring the national Government and Congress headquarters, currently in La Paz, the presidential stronghold, to Sucre, in Chuquisaca department.

As of August 2007, one year after the Constituent Assembly was set up, no text had yet been approved. A law was therefore adopted to allow its work to continue until December 14, 2007 and the debate on the transfer of the capital was temporarily set aside so that progress could be made. This decision led to violent opposition in Sucre and sessions had to be suspended. A new protest movement took place in Sucre on November 24 and 25, 2007 with violent clashes between demonstrators and police, resulting in the death of three people.3

On December 9, 2007, the Constituent Assembly at last approved the final version of the new Bolivian Constitution, despite opposition from four provinces led by traditional elite groups (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando), who held referenda on their regions' autonomy, in contravention of the Constitution.

It is to be noted that Bolivian justice continues to be confronted by a true institutional crisis, in particular due to the lack of possibility of recourse and its lack of independence from the political authorities.

Finally, although 60% of the population is indigenous, the native and peasant communities continue to be victims of discrimination, servitude and forced labour,4 in an environment in which land distribution is marred by corruption, irregular practices and institutional weakness.

A framework for human rights defence that is favourable but in need of improvement

The Bolivian legislative framework promotes freedom of association, since Bolivia has accepted, either through ratification or adherence, the principal regional and international legal human rights mechanisms and the basic texts established by the International Labour Organisation, including those that respectively relate to the freedom of association and protection of the right to organise (Convention n° 87, 1948) and the right to organisation and collective bargaining (Convention n° 98, 1949).

However, beyond the favourable attitude of the Government to social movements of all kinds, it is not rare for organisations to be hindered in their activities by organisations set up in parallel by the authorities or by regional and municipal Governments. They encounter obstacles such as refusal or restriction of access to public information, delays in administrative procedures, prolonged postponement of proceedings related to claims on the defence of fundamental rights and freedoms, etc.

Acts of repression and attacks on defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples and peasant communities

In Bolivia, defenders of the right to land and those who support the claims of indigenous peoples and peasant communities are the principal targets of acts of reprisal carried out mainly by the people or groups they oppose, i.e. the landowners. In this respect, the Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee (Comité Cívico Pro Santa Cruz) distinguished itself on several occasions by racist acts against the indigenous population. An extreme right-wing citizens' obedience movement bringing together rich landowners in particular, the Committee supports the regional Governors' policy of autonomy, which aims to concentrate control of the resources of the regions concerned in the hands of a corrupt elite group.

The Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee opposed the adoption by the Constituent Assembly of a simple majority voting system, as opposed to a two-thirds majority vote. At the end of 2006, after the strike that followed the announcement of the decision, the group carried out several acts of reprisal against people and organisations that had not supported the movement, including the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia (Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia – APDHB). On January 16, 2007, Mr. Adalberto Rojas, APDHB President, went to the Santa Cruz law courts to report acts of reprisal and was threatened and insulted. On January 21, 2007, Ms. Fabiana Aguilar, Secretary of the APDHB in Santa Cruz, was insulted and threatened by members of the Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee who went to the organisation's offices and announced that they would sell the premises.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).


1 The Observatory for Human Rights and Social Policies (Observatorio de Derechos Humanos y Políticas Sociales) noted 300 such demonstrations in 2007 (See Los derechos humanos en la Bolivia del 2007. Documento trabajo, January 2008).

2 These acts were condemned by the Presidency of the European Union (EU), in a statement made on January 16, 2007 which called on "all parties to resolve their differences in a spirit of tolerance and dialogue while fully respecting human rights, democratic principles and institutions, and to refrain from acts of violence".

3 The EU Presidency deplored "the tragic events [...] in Sucre", and expressed the wish that "Bolivia can find a path of unity and consensus in the framework of the Constituent Assembly" (See EU Presidency Statement on the Current Situation in Bolivia, November 26, 2007).

4 At least 600 Guaraní families would reportedly be affected by servitude or forced labour. See Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: the Road towards Strengthening Democracy in Bolivia, Document OEA/Ser. L/V/II, Doc. 34, June 28, 2007.

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