Covering events from January - December 2002

REPUBLIC OF BOLIVIA
Head of state and government: Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (replaced Jorge Quiroga Ramírez in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

The situation in the region of El Chapare deteriorated at the beginning of the year. Four peasants were killed and several people were injured in violent clashes between peasants and security forces. Scores of trade unionists were arrested. There were reports of arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of detainees by members of the security forces. Human rights defenders continued to be harassed and attacked.


Background

Presidential and congressional elections took place in June. In the absence of an outright majority, Congress designated Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada from the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, as President for a five-year term; he was inaugurated in August. The election result emphasized the growing emergence of a rural left-wing vote as a political force led by coca grower Evo Morales from the party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Movement Towards Socialism. For the first time, indigenous communities obtained a strong parliamentary representation through the MAS, which won the second largest number of seats in the House of Deputies.

El Chapare region

The continuing government policy of forced eradication of coca-leaf crops to fulfil agreements signed with the US government, the militarization in El Chapare region, and the failure of alternative development to replace coca-leaf crops, led to confrontations between peasants and members of the security forces.

In January, following the government's decision to enforce Supreme Decree 26415 which prohibited the drying, transportation or sale of coca-leaf, there were violent clashes between peasants and members of the security forces in Sacaba and Shinahota, Cochabamba Department. Three peasants were killed and several people, including members of the security forces, were injured during the clashes. According to eyewitnesses, one of those killed in January was Marcos Ortíz Llanos, who was shot by a member of the security forces.

Four members of the security forces were killed in disputed circumstances. Two of them showed signs of torture. Reportedly, over 80 union leaders were arrested and needed medical attention as a result of beatings during detention.

In February, following the mediation of the Roman Catholic Church, the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the human rights organization Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos (APDH), Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, an agreement was reached between coca-leaf trade union leaders and the government. Supreme Decree 26415 was suspended, investigations into the killings and complaints of ill-treatment were reportedly initiated, payment of economic compensation to victims of the ongoing conflict in El Chapare was announced, and the jailed union leaders were released.

In October, in further clashes between peasants and members of the security forces in Ichoa, Cochabamba Department, Sabino Toledo, a peasant, was killed and another three peasants were shot and wounded in circumstances which appeared to involve excessive use of force by the security forces.

Conditions of detention and ill-treatment

Prison conditions remained very poor. There were concerns about overcrowding, insanitary conditions and inadequate medical care. Ill-treatment of detainees by police both in prisons and detention centres persisted.

  • Detainees held at the Abra men's prison in Cochabamba reportedly complained of ill-treatment by prison staff as well as physical abuse and extortion by other prisoners.
  • In January the APDH and the Human Rights Ombudsperson called for an investigation into an incident in which a young female detainee was found stripped naked below the waist after she passed out in the Technical Judicial Police cells. She had also sustained a series of abrasions while unconscious. She required medical attention for several days in the Viedma Hospital. The detainee was unsure whether she had been raped or sexually assaulted while unconscious. Test results were inconclusive; medical and laboratory tests were not carried out until four days after the young woman's arrest.
There were reports of ill-treatment of conscripts in military barracks in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Province. According to reports conscripts were subjected to violent punishments and sexual abuse. An investigation into the complaints was announced.
  • Over 10 conscripts serving at the army barracks of Puerto Suarez deserted their posts after allegedly being subjected to sexual harassment and being punished for disobeying orders by having aviation fuel poured on their genitals.
Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to be threatened and harassed for denouncing human rights violations and providing assistance to detainees and members of indigenous groups in the context of land disputes.
  • In March, César Blanco was detained for several hours by police in Tarija, Tarija Department. While in detention he was reportedly ill-treated and threatened with "disappearance". César Blanco is a lawyer from the non-governmental organization Centro de Estudios Jurídicos e Investigación Social (CEJIS), Centre for Legal Studies and Social Research, which provides legal assistance to peasants and indigenous communities on land tenure claims.

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