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Press Conference by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, La Paz, Bolivia (Tuesday 16 November 2010) - Opening Statement

Thank you all very much for coming; I am very pleased to be here with you. I came to Bolivia for the first time to gain first-hand understanding of current dynamics in relation to human rights. I also came to examine ways in which my office can provide further support and advice to the country.

I would like to thank the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia for inviting me to visit during the examination of the country by the Human Rights Council. Earlier today, I met with President Evo Morales, and in the past four days I have held a series of fruitful discussions with the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Transparency, the Minister of Finance, and other key government officials, and representatives of the National Assembly and the Judiciary.

I met with the Ombudsman, indigenous representatives and authorities, and representatives of the Afro Bolivian community, as well as victims of torture. I also had talks with various Civil Society organisations working on human rights issues. Their perspectives, and the information they gather, are of course of great importance to the improvement and maintenance of human rights in all countries.

I also met with ambassadors, chiefs of cooperation programmes and senior United Nations officials. I was very pleased to note the good cooperation between UN agencies in the areas of human rights protection, education, women issues and economic and social rights.

I have congratulated the government for the profound legal, political and institutional reforms aimed at ending the historical discrimination and exclusion of indigenous people and other vulnerable groups. I would like to encourage the authorities to continue their efforts in the same direction.

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 that 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 institutionalization of the indigenous justice system, as pointed out by the UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya, “recognizes the undeniable reality of the existence and effective operation for hundreds of years of several indigenous justice systems corresponding to different nationalities and peoples”.

However, despite the profound legal, political and institutional reforms aimed at recognising indigenous rights, most indigenous people continue to suffer from extreme poverty and exclusion.

The recent adoption of the law against racism is a landmark development, and I salute it as it is also a long standing United Nations request. In this context, however, let me point out 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. Racist speech, hate speech and incitement to racial violence are unacceptable in a democratic society. Therefore, they cannot be protected by freedom of expression.

However, 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.

Problems in the administration of justice are not new, nor have they started with this government. I do not need to elaborate on this as you all know the problems the judiciary has been facing. And I acknowledge the fact that this Government has taken some measures in order to ensure a minimum of functioning.

I am concerned, nonetheless, 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. 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. I am also concerned that while there was a need to end the impasse with regard to delays in the administration of justice, now is the time to start the process of selection of candidates for higher courts as a matter of urgency in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

I want to commend the government for all the good social programmes to alleviate poverty and exclusion, and a number of laws in the pipeline in the Plurinational Assembly which are addressing some of the long standing issues such as violence against women and children, indigenous rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.

In this regard, I would like to point out 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. I encourage the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to ensure transparency and adequate time for public dialogue and analysis on all draft legislation.

Also, 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. I encourage you to make full use of the services of my office in Bolivia who will be ready to help in this endeavour.

Finally, I would like to thank the Government and people of Bolivia for their warm welcome. It has been a privilege to visit this country. I hope to be back soon.

Thank you.