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In Dialogue with Bolivia, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Asks About the Labour Market, and about Women in the Economy

6 October 2021

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Bolivia on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, with Committee Experts asking about the country’s labour market, as well as about the role, function, and remuneration of women in the formal and informal economy. 

Committee Experts inquired about Bolivia’s progress in reducing poverty, and progress toward greater equality in education and the labour market for women.  Focus areas in the discussion also included the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the State party, as well as Bolivia’s unique legislation giving rights to nature.  The Committee also asked questions about the country’s large informal labour market, as well as tax policies in place.    

Ivan Lima Magne, Minister of Justice and Institutional Transparency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said Bolivia was a State based on plurality and pluralism.  The country had designed and implemented an economy on the principles of complementarity, reciprocity, solidarity, redistribution, equality, sustainability, balance, justice and transparency.  Its Patriotic Agenda 2025 aimed to build a more inclusive, participatory and democratic society and State, free of discrimination, racism, hatred and division.  Bolivia aimed to eradicate extreme material poverty and significantly reduce moderate poverty, and had designed, enacted and implemented various laws in favour of traditionally vulnerable populations.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolivian households had experienced negative economic impacts, yet every effort had been made to guarantee free vaccination.  A set of tax incentives aimed at strengthening national production, in harmony with Mother Earth. 

In the ensuing discussion, the delegation noted that one of the most progressive changes in Bolivia was its Universal Health System, created for people who did not have any health- or social insurance.  The situation of people from the LGBTI community was also a subject of discussion, with the delegation explaining how progressive legislation allowed people to alter information included in registries.  Following the “de-patriarchalization” strategy in Bolivia, an action plan was in place aiming to train civil servants, prosecutors and others to combat violence against children and women.  Education was a key pillar of such efforts.  

The delegation of Bolivia was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Institutional Transparency; the Ministry of Health and Sports; the Ministry of Education; and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Bolivia at the end of its seventieth session, which concludes on 15 October.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public on Thursday, 7 October at 3 p.m. to consider the fifth periodic report of Nicaragua (E/C.12/NIC/5)

Report

The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Bolivia (E/C.12/BOL/3).

Presentation of the Report

IVAN LIMA MAGNE, Minister of Justice and Institutional Transparency of Bolivia and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said Bolivia was a State based on plurality and pluralism in the political, economic, legal, cultural, and linguistic dimensions.  Among the most fundamental rights were the right to life, to water and food, to education, to health, to habitat, to housing, in addition to access to basic services such as drinking water, sewage, electricity, household gas and telecommunications.  Bolivia had designed and implemented an  economy on the principles of complementarity, reciprocity, solidarity, redistribution, equality, sustainability, balance, justice and transparency.  Bolivia’s Patriotic Agenda 2025 aimed to build a more inclusive, participatory and democratic society and State, free of discrimination, racism, hatred and division.

In Bolivia, most extreme poverty in its material dimension had the face of indigenous peasants, women, and children.  Communities with enormous cultural, historical and social wealth lived in such conditions due to the impacts of colonization, expropriation of their lands, and sacking of their natural resources.  Through its Patriotic Agenda 2025, Bolivia aimed to eradicate extreme material poverty and significantly reduce moderate poverty.  Bolivia had designed, enacted and implemented various laws in favour of traditionally vulnerable populations, including laws that protected the rights of Afro-Bolivian peoples, indigenous peoples, women, children, adolescents, young people, adults and older adults, and persons with disabilities.  Adding to that set of national legal norms, Bolivia was party to all the international human rights standards. 

In the social area, plans, programmes and projects had been implemented as a result of public policies aiming to reduce inequality gaps.  A Ministry of Cultures, Decolonization and Depatriarchalization had been created, which promoted cultural policies of dignity and sovereignty, inter alia.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolivian households had experienced negative economic impacts.  The Government made every effort to guarantee free vaccinations, and by December 2021, Bolivia hoped to have immunised approximately 90 per cent of the population over the age of 18.  In 2020, the school year had been suspended.  Bolivia was working steadily to deepen its social and productive community economic model and was moving forward with an emergency employment plan aimed at generating decent work for Bolivians. 

The Plurinational Legislative Assembly had also approved the creation of a trust fund to support the reactivation of public investment.  Tax incentives aimed at the industrialization of Bolivia’s natural resources and the strengthening of national production, in harmony with Mother Earth.  Bolivia’s position remained that access to vaccines against COVID-19 was a right.  In conclusion, Mr. Lima Magne observed that land, earth, and fire had been given to everyone as a gift of life; therefore, Bolivia believed that fighting over land or water was not brotherly. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Member, noted the delay in submitting the report to the Committee.  As regards the general provisions of the Covenant, there was a question whether an ordinary Bolivian could take a case to national courts based on the Covenant.  On climate change, what had Bolivia achieved on measures taken in that direction?  Were there any examples and structural changes in the water or the agricultural sectors?  Regarding the energy sector, how did Bolivia distribute incomes from that sector?  He asked for statistical data concerning poverty levels, especially indigenous people, as well as the tax policies in place.  He also asked about the measures taken to protect human rights defenders.  Was the State party planning to update the legal framework on prior consent for populations affected, in the light of international human rights law and the Covenant?   

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the equal conditions in terms of exercising rights applied to all people, including indigenous people.  Specific legislation was in place for indigenous and “campesino” people, which ensured their protection.   Any citizen could go straight to courts with claims invoking the Covenant or other international legislation adopted in the country.  It was specifically outlined in the national legislation of Bolivia that where international instruments recognized more favourable rights than those of the Constitution, it was preferentially applied.  Jurisprudence on that was very wide-spread, and would be communicated to the Committee. 

In response to questions about climate change, the delegation said that concerning water resources, a river basin national plan had been implemented, as well as a training program to share local environmental water management techniques.  Bolivia was seeking solutions to the challenges concerning climate change risks.  There were clear commitments to work rigorously, to ensure that the national resources were used well, while complying with environmental standards.  The Bolivian government considered the application of new measures in line with the Paris Principles.  There were already environmental projects in place to combat climate challenges, including hydroelectric programs using renewable resources.  As for redistribution of energy resources, Bolivia had recovered a lot of the income that was being generated in the country.  It was distributed among different levels of government in an equitable way.  Those resources contributed to fostering socio-economic policies. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolivia had worked to reach indigenous people with targeted vaccine efforts.  A team had been set up to provide support to them, and understand the needs of those communities.  In some indigenous communities, the setup was very difficult due to the geographic context.  Bolivia would send out a team under the Ministry of Health to provide support, working hand in hand with traditional medicine practicioners. 

The most negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic had been felt in the educational system.  A system offering three types of education had been developed, in line with pandemic preventative measures.  There were remote, hybrid, and in-person classes, and a free online platform had also been launched to support education.  Many classes were broadcast on television and radio. 

With regard to prior consultation of indigenous and “campesino” people, a methodology and administrative process had been established in Bolivia to support them.  In Bolivia, prior consultation had to be carried out with regard to legal norms which might affect “campesino” or indigenous peoples.  The issue of racism was very important in Bolivia, and a comprehensive report had concluded that there was a need to recognize progress made in combating racism. 

As for the protection of human rights defenders, Bolivia had signed up to the conventions and recommendations and normative frameworks that ensured protection of activists and human rights defenders.  That context had led to a standard which Bolivia applied across its courts.  Cases were prioritized within the legal framework.  A directorate was responsible for dealing with emblematic cases relating to human rights.  Bolivia had carried out training courses for human rights defenders from the LGBTI community. 

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts 

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Vice-Chair, requested more information about the report mentioned on the 2019 crisis, also asking which measures Bolivia was taking to guarantee legal independence?  As to the self-determination of indigenous peoples and prior consent, the Committee had information about instances in infrastructure works, where that was not taken into consideration.  What was the status of a draft bill on prior consent?  Concerning racism, the Committee had received information about cases of breaches of the law.  What mechanisms did the State party have to effectively combat racism?  Regarding management of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that significant progress had been made in terms of promoting vaccination, but mortality levels were reported to be very high.  Was there under-registration of COVID-19 deaths?    

LUDOVIC HENNEBEL, Committee Member, asked for further clarification of the recognition of rights for nature enshrined in Bolivia’s legal order, in particular in the law on the right of Mother Earth, who was recognised as a rights-holder.  What was the level of compatibility between rights for Mother Earth and human rights?  International human rights law was quite human-centered in its approach, while the initiatives of Mother Earth might adopt different approaches.  Were there any conflicts of standards between them?  Were there any observations that the legal order recognizing rights for nature could have a positive vector for the respect for economic, social and cultural rights?

PETERS SUNDAY OMOLOGBE EMUZE, Committee Member, noted a ministerial decision on a strategy for agricultural risk management and response to climate change.  How had Bolivia implemented the national strategy, in light of the effects of the economic crisis and debts? 

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions about national law, the delegation said what Bolivia wanted to do in its Constitution was provide the highest possible level of protection.  Bolivia offered higher protection for human rights compared to regional standards.  Regarding legal independence, there were unique opportunities for Bolivia to secure the kind of independence for judges and lawyers needed through ongoing changes in the country.  A national debate was occurring around potential new measures. 

Regarding LGBTI rights, and the fact that they could not marry, the delegation acknowledged that regulations and legislation had to be developed to ensure the rights of that group were safeguarded.  As for equality between men and women, work was being done as regards an economy of care, with a care policy strategy aiming to improve the economic empowerment of women. 

In response to questions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation said that according to the most relevant statistics, mortality rates had actually been reduced recently.  Strategies previously implemented had included virtual closure of hospitals not treating cases related to the pandemic, leaving many cases of chronic, acute disease and other maladies without any healthcare treatment.  Bolivia was now trying to normalise the health services, allocating an increased budget for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.  The drop in the mortality rate was a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of the new measures.  Furthermore, testing rates had been improved, and a centralised digital data system provided better oversight of the recording and registration of COVID-19 cases. 

As for questions regarding LGBTI rights, the delegation explained that the main improvements had been in the gender identity law which established procedures for altering one's name and sex.  Many people had changed their identity following that.  As for same-sex marriage, rulings hindering their registration should be overturned.  On treaty body law and how it stood with the Constitution, Bolivia had opted for the highest level of human rights protection.  When international instruments, such as the Covenant recognized more favourable rights for individuals, it was applied.  The Constitutional Court had developed jurisprudence regarding sentences handed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and other inter-Americans systems. 

Bolivia was trying to make its justice system more independent, equitable, efficient and people-friendly.  To that effect, the country was trying to ensure careful selection of candidates to enter the system, as well as providing them with relevant training.  Concerning initiatives to overcome patriarchal domination, Bolivia was implementing policies which tried to improve conditions for women.  The allocation of more resources would allow women to live free of violence.  Projects and plans were implemented on a central level, but also on a regional and municipal level. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

MICHAEL WINDFUHR, Committee Vice-Chair, focused his questions on the right to work, trade union rights and social security.  Noting that Bolivia was leading the South American ranking of employment in the informal sector of the economy, and given how rooted informality was, he asked if Bolivia had adequate incentives to change the status quo.  The salaries paid in some informal jobs were inadequate to ensure a decent standard of living for the recipients and members of their families.  More women than men were employed in the informal sector, and the disproportionate burden of unpaid work on women constituted a further significant barrier to their full realization of the right to work.  Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, working in the informal sector had a greater impact on women who were already living under a vulnerable situation, especially for indigenous women, migrant women, female asylum seekers and female refugees as well as Afro-Bolivian women, he noted.  How did Bolivia judge its efforts to transition from the informal to the formal economy?  Was there disaggregated data, especially indicating the gender and the background of people being employed, on people working in the informal sector?  

Concerning the situation of persons with disabilities, progress had been made, Mr. Windfuhr noted.  What had Bolivia done to increase persons with disabilities’ participation in the labour market through education and vocational training?  On the right to just and favourable conditions of work, he noted that while Bolivia was implementing a “Multisectoral Plan for Advancement in De-Patriarchalisation and the Right of Women to Live Well,” civil society organizations claimed that the State had not implemented concrete and comprehensive policies designed to accelerate gender equality in access to work and conditions of work.  There was a persistent gender pay gap.  What had Bolivia done to identify and address unequal remuneration between men and women for work of equal value? Regarding indigenous people, he asked about measures taken by the State party to prevent and penalize any form of violence against indigenous peoples, especially at the workplace.

As for the situation of LGBTIQ people, Mr. Windfuhr noted that a large part of the  population works in the informal or casual sector, with some forced to engage in sex work due to rejection in the labour sphere, particularly transgender women.  What could Bolivia do to improve that situation?  Which labour regulations could be applicable?  Refugees and asylum seekers also faced limitations in accessing the labour market, particularly women and girls.  He noted that there had been overall progress against child labour, but there was no updated official disaggregated information on the dimension and characteristics of child and adolescent labour in Bolivia. 

Mr. Windfuhr also inquired about the organization of trade unions and the right to strike.  Concerning the right to social security, the universal health system had achieved remarkable progress.  What was Bolivia’s own observation on the functioning of its family bonus and its universal bonus?  Persons in an irregular migratory situation, as well as asylum seekers in a vulnerable situation, had seen obstacles in accessing the health system; how would Bolivia deal with that? He asked for current data regarding the number of people in the country without access to an improved water source.

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Vice-Chair, asked about early teenage pregnancy.  While there was a plan in place, the rate continued to be quite high.  Was it due to lack of sexual education or lack of resources to implement a strategy?  Regarding early marriages, he said the Committee had received information about cases of young girls marrying their rapists.  A significant number of children received corporal punishment, and were victims of ill-treatment.  What measures was Bolivia contemplating against that?  There were also many cases of gender violence, what measures against it would Bolivia take? 

Regarding issues around the right to a proper standard of living, Mr. Uprimny noted that progress had been impressive, with lower inequality figures than other countries in Latin America.  The tax system itself was not a redistributive one, however.  Extreme poverty in Bolivia had decreased dramatically, yet there remained a poverty gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people.  What were the reasons for those gaps?  Regarding housing programs created by the government, the Committee could not understand the clear results of those programs.  Bolivia continued to have relatively poor results compared to the rest of Latin America in the area of nutrition, he said, asking what measures Bolivia would take against malnutrition in the country? 

Concerning the right to health, Mr. Uprimny noted that the maternal and child mortality rates had dropped for the past 15 years, but the rates were still high.  What was the reason for gaps in maternal and child mortality rates between groups?  Turning to sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights to voluntary interruption of pregnancy, according to information the Committee had received, unsafe abortions were a significant cause of maternal mortality.  There were obstacles to women’s access to safe abortion.  What was the policy of Bolivia on sexual and reproductive health of women, and on the right to safe abortion?  Would there be a broader decriminalization of abortion in the future?  Finally, on Bolivia’s policies on controlled substances, otherwise known as illegal drugs, he observed that Bolivia’s laws on the matter were old and grounded on prohibitionism.  Was Bolivia planning to introduce strategies to reduce harm or address the needs of users?  Would Bolivia allow the medicinal use of cannabis as part of its overall strategy on health? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation, responding to questions about regulation of the employment market, said some regulations aimed to encourage young people and people with disabilities to join the employment market.  The government was trying to help women to leave poverty.  The current pension system and social security system improved on previous measures Bolivia had had in place; workers could contribute to the pension system and retire.  The non-contributory system, called the dignity income, allowed all the adult population to have access to pension and social security systems.  Media was used to spread information on social security, and those spreading misinformation on the topic could be held accountable. 

An initiative aimed at women heads of households aimed to help make women financially independent.  Health services had been strengthened to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Bolivia had signed a few inter-institutional agreements supporting refugees’ access to education, and other aspects of social welfare.  Bolivia was working on public policies to integrate refugees locally, with the support of relevant institutions.  The idea was to help them to join the labour market. 

Regarding the integration of people with disabilities in the labour market, Bolivia took measures to support their employment, or provided them with benefits if it was not possible for them to join the labour market.  In response to questions about access to education in urban an rural areas, the delegation said that according to statistics, the number of students enrolled in rural areas had increased.  The Ministry of Education was working on a range of agreements with various institutions including civil society.   

As regards addressing equal pay, women were encouraged to enter the labour market.  Inspections were carried out by the Ministry of Labour to ensure that women had equal pay.  Inspections were also carried out to eradicate child labour.  Bolivia had a Fundamental Rights Unit which worked to spread knowledge throughout the country to eliminate the gap between the pay of women and men.  Mobile units could go to more remote parts of the country, and ensure that labour rights were implemented and upheld.  Training was provided to labour inspectors to identify harassment of women or children and pass on any complaints.   

In response to a question on indigenous people’s involvement in the labour market, the delegation explained that the Bolivian State had implemented projects to support indigenous people, with a focus on human rights and institutional strengthening.  Bolivia ensured that all legislation was applied in practice, without discrimination.  As for the rights of LGBTI people, a registry had been set up as regards personal identity; a service for identification was capacitated to provide the opportunity for people to change their gender identity.  Protection was given to people with HIV and AIDS in accessing the labour market, as well as access to hospitals and treatment. 

Regarding people working in mines, Bolivia was trying to eliminate children conducting such work.  The right to strike was guaranteed by the government, as well as freedom of association, and independence of trade unions.  The right to strike was guaranteed. 

Bolivia had established social measures to support all its citizens, including ensuring access to all hospitals.  The same applied to access to water and  sanitation.  In response to questions about early pregnancy, a number of different strategies were put in place in the country, through the collaboration of different ministries.  Comprehensive training was provided to teachers regarding teenage pregnancy.  There were also ministerial units supporting the prevention of such pregnancies.  There was also a strategy for sexual education in place.       

A comprehensive system to protect adolescents was in place involving families and society, and all relevant institutions and bodies.  Following the “de-patriarchalization” strategy in Bolivia, an action plan was in place aiming to train civil servants, prosecutors and others to combat violence against children and women.  Education was a key pillar of such efforts. 

Bolivia had implemented a number of measures to amend the tax system in the country in order to fight poverty and improve the general situation.  A few new taxes had been introduced, including a tax on gambling.  There was no value added tax on books to encourage reading.  For the current financial year, tax incentives had been created to boost productivity.  A number of measures aimed to reduce the poverty gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous people.  Some reduction had been observed, but it still remained a problem in Bolivia. 

The government was taking measures to ensure that housing was provided to vulnerable people in Bolivia.  Food nutrition guidelines were provided throughout the country, and a number of programs against malnutrition were in place.  The Universal Health System was created for people who did not have any health- or social insurance, and it represented one of the most progressive changes in Bolivia.  The gross domestic product of the country had significantly increased, according to statistics the delegation provided.  Bolivia’s national information system on health, following the COVID-19 pandemic, had made efforts to consolidate data, and provided information on the number of pregnancies and legal adoption.  There was no specific cannabis regulation or legislation in place in Bolivia.     

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked whether there was broader legislation to guarantee safe abortion for women.  The Committee had information that there was overcrowding in Bolivian prisons; could legislative changes improve matters? Another Committee Expert asked for information about regulations clarifying the right to strike for public employees, or for other sectors that were of particular importance to the State.  Committee Experts further inquired whether there was a definition in Bolivian law for consent to medical treatment. 

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that Bolivia’s constitutional framework governed matters concerning indigenous people.  Regarding abortion legislation, there was no definition on decriminalisation, or defined policy on the issue.  In terms of drug use, a policy that was previously implemented by a social movement was the reason it was strongly punished.  With international assistance, the law was being revised.  The constitutional principle that currently applied to the right to strike was also being considered for revision.  In response to Committee Members’ comments, the delegation pointed to statistics demonstrating a gradual increase of Bolivia’s gross domestic product following increased resources to health. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

LAURA-MARIA CRACIUNEAN-TATU, Committee Member, asked about the right to education.  Which measures were taken to ensure that all vulnerable and indigenous children had equal access to education?  Could the delegation provide statistical data?  Which measures had Bolivia taken to limit child labour?  She noted that the Committee had received information that Bolivia lacked a policy, strategy or specific resources devoted to children with disabilities.  Were any measures envisaged to improve such children’s access to schools?  Ms. Craciunean-Tatu also asked for figures on inclusive education.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, had Bolivia managed to address the challenges of online education? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that some of the questions Committee Experts had asked relating to education were not issues only in Bolivia.  There were some economic incentives, and financial grants, as well as administrative support, provided to promote education throughout Bolivia.  Teaching staff were trained to provide relevant education to students with disabilities. 

Concluding remarks 

Committee Experts expressed gratitude for the positive dialogue and the delegation’s high-quality answers.  After receiving the delegation’s written follow-up remarks to the questions, work would begin on the observations of the Committee to Bolivia, which would aim to strengthen human rights in the country.   

The delegation expressed its commitment to protecting and promoting economic, social and cultural rights.  Future reports to the Committee would not be as delayed.  The Committee was also invited to visit the country to personally assess the progress Bolivia had made in the fields of housing, health and education, following all relevant international standards.  Work remained to be done, including in regards to economic policies, with the support of the Committee and the international community. 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/10/dialogue-bolivia-committee-economic-social-and-cultural-rights