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Bolivia: UN Human Rights Chief urges structural changes to prevent crises

GENEVA (24 August 2020) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has welcomed the recent agreement in Bolivia paving the way for general elections to proceed on 18 October, and the resulting lifting of blockades by those who were protesting against the latest postponement of the election because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I urge Bolivians to build on this peaceful resolution of the latest tensions, given how essential it is that the elections pass off in full respect of human rights. Bolivia needs to move forward from the polarization that has marked the country for so long and towards a society rooted in dialogue, where everyone is integrated and recognised,” Bachelet said.

As the country enters a new electoral cycle, the UN Human Right Office has today published a report detailing the serious human rights violations committed between 20 October and 25 November amid a major political crisis in the wake of the October 2019 election. The report makes a series of detailed recommendations aimed at fostering the protection of human rights, preventing violations and promoting the necessary conditions for peaceful, participatory and inclusive elections.

“Our recommendations also aim to help the Plurinational State of Bolivia to undertake structural changes and reforms to address the root causes of the crises that we have seen flare up in the country. These include ensuring accountability for violations and strengthening the country’s institutions for the benefit of all Bolivians,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.

Since November 2019, Human Rights Office staff have been deployed in Bolivia to gather first-hand information. The Office’s report into the events of 2019 is based on more than 150 interviews with victims, witnesses, civil society representatives and the authorities. Among the human rights violations documented were killings, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention.

Some 30 people died during protests between 20 October and 25 November, with at least 20 of these deaths occurring during operations by the police and armed forces. Some accounts indicated that security forces resorted to unnecessary or excessive use of force against protesters and used weapons to disperse crowds. The Government has denied that the security forces used firearms against protesters.

Among the worst incidents were the killing of nine people during demonstrations in Sacaba (Cochabamba) and 10 people during protests in Senkata (El Alto-La Paz).

“I am deeply concerned that, nine months on, not a single person has been held accountable for the deaths in Sacaba and Senkata nor for the majority of the killings that happened during the period covered by our report,” Bachelet said.

“Independent, impartial, transparent and thorough investigations would shed light on what happened, opening the door to truth, justice and integral reparations. This is essential not only to heal the wounds of the victims, but also of society. Failure to act will deepen divisions, aggravating current tensions and undermining public trust in State institutions,” she added.

Other violations documented in the report include the arbitrary detention of 28 people in El Alto (La Paz) on 11 November 2019, who were subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment by the police.
During the period under review, UN Human Rights staff also observed public officials and private individuals using violent and inflammatory language, as well as verbal and physical violence directed against indigenous people, reflecting deeply entrenched racism.

There were 94 instances when journalists were attacked, and people working at the Bolivian Office of the Ombudsperson suffered threats and attacks. All these incidents should be investigated.

Another concern highlighted by the report is how officials or individuals associated with the former Government were subjected to what appeared to be judicial persecution, reflecting longstanding deficiencies in the Bolivian justice system, and hence the need and importance of guaranteeing due process.

ENDS

To read the report: /Documents/Countries/BO/OACNUDH-Informe-Bolivia-EN.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Jeremy Laurence - + 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.orgor Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org
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