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Bolivia: big strides in the protection of rights, but there is still room to grow – UN human rights chief

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (17 November 2010) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay praised Tuesday the legal, political and institutional reforms adopted by the Bolivian Government to end discrimination and exclusion of indigenous people and other vulnerable groups, but warned most of them “continue to suffer from extreme poverty and exclusion.”

“The Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia represents a historic step forward that sends a clear message to other nations in the continent and beyond,” Pillay said during a press conference* at the end of her first visit to the country. “The soundest nation-building is one that takes into full account and promotes the rights of all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, culture, sex, age, class or language.”

The High Commissioner noted in particular the recent adoption of a law against racism and discrimination, describing it as a “landmark development,” which had been a long standing UN request. However, she warned that “the prohibition of dissemination of racist ideas, if not adequately regulated, may affect the right to freedom of expression.”

“International law requires that States punish racism and racial discrimination,” the UN human rights chief said. “Racist speech, hate speech and incitement to racial violence are unacceptable in a democratic society. Therefore, they cannot be protected by freedom of expression.”

The High Commissioner underscored that, in order to protect legitimate freedom of speech and differentiate it from those expressions that incite to hate or violence, “international law requires that limitations must be stipulated by law, that they must be clear and precisely defined, and that they be implemented by an independent body.”

Pillay also expressed concern at the lack of access to justice, especially in rural communities, and at “the wide-ranging impunity that exists, not only for cases of past human rights violations but also for more recent cases.” She noted that “in the fight against impunity for all crimes, including corruption, presumption of innocence, due process and fair trial are the crucial principles that need to be respected.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights commended the social programmes adopted by the Bolivian Government to alleviate poverty and exclusion, as well as a number of Bills being debated by lawmakers to address long standing issues such as violence against women and children, indigenous rights and the rights of the most vulnerable, as well as torture.

However, Pillay stressed that “any process involving profound transformation is more solidly built and long lasting if it is conducted with the full participation of all sectors of society.” The High Commissioner encouraged the Plurinational Legislative Assembly “to ensure transparency and adequate time for public dialogue and analysis on all draft legislation.”

She also noted that legislative processes need to be rooted in the universal principles and values embodied in international law. “I underscore the importance of ensuring that Bolivian law fully complies with international human rights law and standards.”

During the course of her five-day visit to Bolivia, the High Commissioner held talks with President Evo Morales, the Ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Transparency, and Finance, as well as other key government officials and representatives of the National Assembly and the Judiciary.

The UN human rights chief also met with the Ombudsman, indigenous representatives and authorities, and representatives of the Afro Bolivian community, as well as victims of torture. Pillay held meetings with Civil Society organisations working on human rights issues, and with ambassadors, chiefs of cooperation programmes and senior UN officials.

The OHCHR office in Bolivia was established in 2007 to provide technical assistance to State institutions and civil society organizations, promote human rights, and monitor and report on the status of human rights in the country. Its mandate was extended in May 2010 for a further three years, until 2013.

OHCHR Bolivia Country Office: http://bolivia.ohchr.org/

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

Log on to OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org

OHCHR Country Page – Bolivia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/BOIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact: María Eugenia Trigo (Tel./Fax: +591 2 243 4360 to 63 / email: MTrigo@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya (Tel: +591720 10484 / email: xcelaya@ohchr.org)