Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2006 - Bolivia

Release on bail of Mr. Francisco José Cortés Aguilar9

Mr. Francisco José Cortés Aguilar, leader of the Association of Rural Workers and Inhabitants (Asociación de Usuarios del Campo – ANUC-UR), in Arauca (Colombia), and a defender of peasants' and indigenous peoples' rights in Colombia, was released on bail on February 8, 2006. Mr. Cortés was however required to appear before the Court twice a week, and was not allowed to leave the cities of La Paz and El Alto pending trial. The preliminary hearing was finally held in early October 2006.

On November 16, 2006, his lawyers asked for the lifting of the restrictions on his freedom of movement and filed a motion for technical irregularities (incidentes de nullidad).

On November 23, 2006, the Fifth Criminal Court of La Paz lifted the travel ban on Mr. Cortés to leave the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It ruled in favour of his appeal the following day.

However, charges remained pending as of the end of 2006.

The request for precautionary protective measures filed with the IACHR had still not been examined by the end of 2006.

Mr. Francisco José Cortés Aguilar had been arrested on April 10, 2003 in La Paz, where he and his family were in exile fleeing the threats from paramilitary groups in Colombia, who had accused him of "being a member of the guerrilla" and of "drug trafficking".

On December 6, 2004, after twenty months on remand in custody in the San Pedro prison in La Paz and in the Chonchocoro high security prison, the Fifth Criminal Court of La Paz had ordered his release on bail. The Prosecutor appealed the decision to the Supreme Court on January 10, 2005. Mr. Cortés had then been placed under house arrest in the Alto San Pedro neighbourhood of La Paz, while awaiting trial.

In August 2005, the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention had declared that Mr. Francisco Cortés Aguilar's detention was arbitrary and had urged the Bolivian government to take the necessary measures to remedy the situation.

On November 16, 2005, the National Refugee Commission of the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Comisión Nacional del Refugiado – CONARE) had granted Mr. Cortés political refugee status, thereby implicitly condemning his detention on remand and his house arrest.

Assault and acts of harassment against APDHB members and several indigenous peoples' rights organisations10

In December 2006, the Santa Cruz Civil Committee (Comité Cívico Pro Santa Cruz)11, which opposed the adoption by the Constituent Assembly of a voting system based on absolute majority rather than on two-thirds of the votes, and following the strike launched upon the announcement of this decision, threatened people and organisations that had not supported the movement, including members of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia (Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia – APDHB).

On December 6, 2006 for instance, Mr. Adalberto Rojas, APDHB president, Mr. Marcelo Cadima, Ms. Catty Cuellar, Ms. Pura Ramírez and Ms. Fabiana Aguilar, APDHB members, as well as five victims supported by the organisation, were physically and verbally assaulted by a group of individuals claiming membership to the Santa Cruz Youth Union (Unión Juvenil Cruceñista), the armed faction of the Santa Cruz Civil Committee.

APDHB filed a complaint with the police. Since then, police officers have been assigned to protect them.

Similarly, on the night of December 7, 2006, the ALAS headquarters, an NGO working in favour of peasants' and indigenous communities' rights, chaired by the current Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Hugo Salvatierra, was the target of 22 gun-shots.

On December 10, 2006, several individuals, suspected of being involved in the assaults on APDHB members, organised a meeting near the organisation's headquarters. They were joined by police officers, including those in charge of APDHB members' protection.

On December 15, 2006, following the failure of the abovementioned strike, the Santa Cruz Civil Committee convened a regional council calling for the independence of the Santa Cruz region. During this event, a large number of peasants organised blockades on the road leading to San Julián, during which violent riots broke out. About fifty people were reportedly injured.

Between December 15 and 16, 2006, about one hundred people, including Mr. Nataniel Castedo Trujillo, a local government official of the Ñuflo de Chávez province, his driver and the brother of the president of the Santa Cruz Civil Committee, Mr. Juan Antelo Román, violently attacked the offices of the Paikoneka Indigenous Federation of San Javier (Central Indígena Paikoneka de San Javier – CPI-SJ), and set the premises on fire, thereby destroying archives dating back over 20 years. They then threatened its leaders, forcing them to seek refuge in the neighbouring communities. Later, in Concepción, another town in Santa Cruz, the attackers also ransacked the offices of the Federation for Indigenous Communities in Concepción (Central Indígena de las Comunidades de Concepción – CICC) and the homes of two of its indigenous leaders.

On December 17, 2006, these same individuals went to San Ignacio de Velasco, where they similarly set on fire the house of Mr. Guillermo Ortiz, an indigenous leader and a member of the Association of the Indigenous Councils of San Ignacio de Velasco (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas de San Ignacio de Velasco – ACISIV), stating that this act was in revenge for the San Julián blockades.

Similarly, another group of individuals went to Ascención de Guarayos, claiming that the "collas"12 had to disappear from the town and that they would all be expelled. Among these individuals were: Mr. Roberto Schock, mayor of Ascención de Guarayos, Mr. Daniel Aeguazu, a local government official of the Guarayos province, Mr. Jaime Cuñanchiro, president of the Ascención de Guarayos Civil Committee; Mr. Ascencio Lavadenz, leader of the Peasants' Parallel Association of Ascención de Guarayos, Mr. Edgar Rojas, mayor of Urbichá, and Mr. José Urañavi, former mayor of Urubichá. They later threatened the family of a former indigenous leader, brother of the current president of the Federation of Guarayos Peoples' Organisations (Central de Organizaciones de Pueblos Guarayos – COPNAG), and attacked several persons.

Mr. Adalberto Rojas had already been targeted by similar reprisals in 2005. In particular, an attempt on his life was made by a person claiming to be a member of the Santa Cruz Youth Union.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

9. See Annual Report 2005 and International Fact-Finding Mission Report in Bolivia, Bolivia: Human rights defenders between intimidation and hope, May 2006.

10. See Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDHB), Cronología de violaciones y agresiones a la APDH Santa Cruz, November 9, 2006 and Open Letter to the Bolivian authorities, January 24, 2007.

11. A citizen committee of the far-right gathering landowners in particular, and which has carried out racist acts on several occasions.

12. Name given to the indigenous population of the Andean high-plateau, and used in a derogatory way to designate the Camba people of eastern Bolivia.


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