2 September 2011
GENEVA -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday welcomed a historic decision by the top court in Bolivia to convict two former ministers and five senior military officers for their involvement in the deaths of more than 60 people during anti-government demonstrations in 2003, and noted what she described as “a very healthy trend towards combatting long-standing impunity” in Latin America.
“I commend the Bolivian Supreme Court for its decision, which is an important step in the fight against impunity,” said Pillay. “I also urge the Government to take all necessary steps to ensure victims and their relatives receive suitable reparations and redress.”
In what became known as “Black October,” 69 people were left dead and over 400 injured when, over a period of several days, soldiers repeatedly fired on crowds demonstrating against a government plan to build a gas pipeline through El Alto, near La Paz.
After a trial that lasted two years, and encountered numerous obstacles, this week the five military officers received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years, while the former Ministers of Sustainable Development and of Employment were sentenced to three years each. Bolivia’s president at the time, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and two other ministers fled to the United States soon after the events, and are currently the subject of extradition requests. Several other former ministers and military officers also subsequently fled the country.
“I welcome this signal by yet another Latin American country that impunity for past human rights violations will no longer be tolerated,” Pillay said. “A number of Latin American countries have been demonstrating to the rest of the world that it is possible not just to move from dictatorship to democracy, but also to bring justice – no matter how powerful or influential those responsible for human rights violations may be, and irrespective of their civilian or military status.”
“I hope this trend continues and gathers even more momentum,” she added, citing recent developments in Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala and Colombia as examples. “Those who carry out torture, extrajudicial killings and other such crimes on other continents would do well to reflect on this very healthy and accelerating trend towards combatting long-standing impunity in Latin America,” the High Commissioner said.
· In Argentina, by the end of 2010, 110 people – mostly military and police personnel – had been convicted for their roles in human rights violations during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Another 820 were facing criminal charges, and 13 trials were under way.
· In Uruguay, on June 27, President Jose Mujica passed a decree revoking administrative acts under the scope of the Expiry Law. This decision allows for the reopening of some 80 cases involving the violation of human rights during the 1973-1985 dictatorship.
· In Guatemala, on 2 August, four former military officers were handed down lengthy prison sentences by the Court of First Instance in Guatemala City for 201 cases of murder and crimes against humanity committed during the Dos Erres massacre in December 1982. Progress has also been made in other emblematic cases, including prosecutions of those believed to be behind the forced disappearance of student leader Edgar Fernando García.
· In Colombia, in June 2010, a senior army officer was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the disappearance of 11 people in November 1985, after military forces stormed the Supreme Court building where guerrillas were holding hundreds of hostages. In May 2011, a retired general was sentenced to 35 years over the same incidents. Over 100 people, including more than 60 civilians, died as a result of the military intervention. Also in Colombia, on Wednesday (31 August), the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction of a former justice minister, Alberto Santofimio, who will serve 24 years in jail for his role in the 1989 murder of rival politician and presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan. Mr. Santofimio had originally received the same sentence in 2007, but was released on appeal after spending just one year in prison.
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OHCHR Country Page – Bolivia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/BOIndex.aspx
Other Latin American countries: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LacRegion/Pages/LacRegionIndex.aspx
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