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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Bolivia on Measures to Incorporate Indigenous Populations in Society, Ask about Redress for Indigenous Victims of Violence and Consultations with Indigenous Populations on Indust
22 November 2023
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-first to twenty-sixth periodic report of Bolivia. Committee Experts commended the State on its measures to incorporate indigenous populations in society, and asked questions on efforts to provide redress for indigenous victims of violence occurring during the 2019 post-electoral crisis and on consultations with indigenous populations on industrial projects.
Bakri Sidiki Diaby, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that progress had been made over the reporting period in the incorporation of indigenous populations in society. Bolivia continued to face the challenge of racial discrimination and it was implementing several measures to address this.
Ibrahima Guisse, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said violence had occurred during the 2019 post-electoral crisis against certain groups, as well as in 2018. What reparations had been provided to victims? Mr. Diaby added that the State party needed to address the root causes of discrimination leading to the 2019 post-electoral crisis. Had measures been implemented to do this?
Mr. Diaby noted that there were companies polluting the land and the water, jeopardising the health of indigenous peoples. What consultation processes were in place regarding such projects? How did the State obtain free, prior and informed consent? What measures were in place to ensure the security of the lands and natural resources of indigenous communities?
Introducing the report, Sabina Orellana Cruz, Minister of Culture, Decolonisation and Depatriarchalisation of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said Bolivia recognised indigenous peoples’ pre-existence and their right to self-determination. Public policies, regulations and institutions had been implemented for the development of historically excluded populations, and to support the State’s cultural and ecological diversity. In October 2010, the law against racism and all forms of discrimination was enacted to give effect to the rights to equality and non-discrimination.
Ms. Orellana Cruz said that with the return to democracy in November 2020 after the dramatic and bloody coup d'état took place, the first task of the Government was the reconstitution of the National Committee against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which had since been implementing prevention policies and working to provide redress for racial discrimination that occurred in 2019. The delegation added there had been around 25 dismissals of police officers related to actions taken in 2019. There were obstacles to redressing damages to victims that the State was working to address.
The delegation said that the Bolivian Constitution set forth the right of indigenous people to be consulted through their institutions regarding any mining, forestry or infrastructure projects that could affect them. The State had ratified International Labour Organization Convention 169 and was ensuring that free, prior and informed consent was obtained. As part of land restoration efforts, the delegation added, 18,000 hectares of land had been passed to Afro-Bolivian communities, benefitting around 10,000 people. The State had titled more land to indigenous peoples than they had requested.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Diaby said Bolivia had implemented meaningful measures to promote the rights of indigenous peoples and all groups protected by the Convention, but there were still significant gaps between legislation and its implementation. The Committee’s concluding observations would support the State to strengthen its implementation of the Convention.
Ms. Orellana Cruz, in concluding remarks, said the fight against racial discrimination was one of the most pressing challenges of our time. The dialogue had been an opportunity to reflect on areas where further efforts were needed to build a more just society. The State would work tirelessly to bolster its policies and practices to promote racial equality, in cooperation with all stakeholders. It hoped to build a society where all cultures and peoples were valued equally.
The delegation of Bolivia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Decolonisation and Depatriarchalisation; Ministry of Justice and Institutional Transparency; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Health and Sports; Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy; and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Bolivia after the conclusion of its one hundred and eleventh session on 8 December. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and eleventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 23 November at 10 a.m. to conclude its review of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Morocco (CERD/C/MAR/19-21).
The Committee has before it the combined twenty-first to twenty-sixth periodic report of Bolivia (CERD/C/BOL/21-26).
Presentation of Report
SABINA ORELLANA CRUZ, Minister of Culture, Decolonisation and Depatriarchalisation of Bolivia and head of the delegation, expressed solidarity with Palestine in the face of Israel's aggression and genocide against the Palestinian people. Bolivia rejected war, colonisation, exploitation and collective punishment. Nothing could justify the killing of civilians, children, women and the elderly, or violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Bolivia had begun a process of change since 2006 to transform itself into an inclusive, decolonised, depatriarchalised plurinational State, based on respect and equality for all, with principles of complementarity and equity in the distribution and redistribution of wealth. Bolivia’s Constitution was approved in 2009. It incorporated the defence and promotion of all human rights, and repudiated all forms of racism and discrimination. The State recognised indigenous peoples’ pre-existence and their right to self-determination. Bolivia included its indigenous languages in addition to Spanish as official languages. It had 36 such languages, including Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní. The State had been working for 15 years to rebuild from the colonial and republic eras, and to revitalise and recover its natural resources. The State now required the equal participation of men and women in elections for national, departmental and municipal authorities.
Public policies, regulations and institutions had been implemented for the development of historically excluded populations, and to support the State’s cultural and ecological diversity. The legislation implemented recently to this end included the framework law on mother earth and integral development for living well; the law for the protection of native indigenous nations and peoples in situations of high vulnerability; the general law on linguistic rights and policies; the law declaring February 21 as the National Day of the Languages and Cultures of the Indigenous, Original, Peasant and Afro-Bolivian Nations and Peoples; the law declaring the National Day of the Afro-Bolivian People and Culture; and the law declaring the period from 2015 to 2024 as the Decade of the Afro-Bolivian People. In October 2010, the law against racism and all forms of discrimination was enacted to give effect to the rights to equality and non-discrimination.
However, in 2019 and 2020, a dramatic and bloody coup d'état took place, which led to discrimination, intolerance and violence against women, indigenous peoples and communities, and the elimination of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The most violent acts were the massacres of Sacaba and Senkata, which had been the focus of investigations by the International Group of Independent Experts formed by agreement between the Bolivian State and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
With the return to democracy in November 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Decolonisation and Depatriarchalisation was created. Among the first tasks of the new institution was implementing public policy on preventing and combatting racism and all forms of discrimination. The Government’s efforts had been hampered by actions from the former oligarchy, such as a 36-day strike in the Department of Santa Cruz demanding that the national population and housing census be carried out without appropriate mapping. Such actions had harmed the development and growth of the country. The first task of the Government was the reconstitution of the National Committee against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which had since been implementing prevention policies.
The Plurinational Policy on Decolonization and Depatriarchalisation established in June 2023 aimed to dismantle the patriarchy and colonisation in public management and society. Bolivia advocated for the effective implementation of programmes and policies that promoted diversity at all levels, from equal access to job opportunities to equitable representation in decision-making spaces. Bolivia was firmly committed to eradicating patriarchy, colonialism, and the scourge of racism and all forms of discrimination. It was determined to forge a future where diversity was celebrated as a treasure and where racial discrimination was confined to the past.
Questions by Committee Experts
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that progress had been made over the reporting period in the incorporation of indigenous populations in society. Bolivia continued to face the challenge of racial discrimination and it was implementing several measures to address this. There needed to be increased financing for institutions and the effective implementation of policies fighting racial discrimination.
Mr. Diaby asked what measures the State envisioned to continue dialogue with civil society on the census and to generate census questions that reflected the demographic reality in the country. How was the State promoting participation in the 2024 census? How would the State party integrate ethnic population indicators and self-identification into administrative records and registers for reporting cases of discrimination? Bolivia did not publish statistical data on asylum seekers and refugees living in the country, disaggregated by age, sex, nationality and place of asylum. Did it plan to publish such data? Did it plan to publish disaggregated data on the websites of its respective institutions?
What measures were in place to bring national legislation into line with international norms on discrimination and intolerance? Had the State party considered ratifying the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, which it signed in 2015? Had the State party set up mechanisms for recording and following up on complaints of discrimination? How did the State party raise awareness among the public about complaints mechanisms? Did the State plan to implement legislation that addressed the burden of proof? What capacity building measures were planned to improve public officers’ capacity to tackle racial discrimination? How would the State address the issues raised in the National Summit on Racial Discrimination? Did the State party plan to develop indicators on racism and the living standards of different cultural groups?
Non-commissioned police officers had protested against the promotion system, which was allegedly discriminatory against indigenous and Afro-Bolivian officers, who could not be promoted beyond the level of “sergeant”. What efforts had been made to reform the system?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said Bolivia’s philosophy of “good living” and its focus on the promotion of diversity were commendable. What measures were in place to improve access to justice for indigenous peoples? How was the State party addressing the negative effects of double incrimination? Were there conflicts between indigenous and formal justice systems? What provisions had been implemented to strengthen indigenous justice systems and map the various justice systems of the State?
What measures were in place to establish a registry of indigenous and Afro-Bolivian populations deprived of liberty? How many indigenous children were imprisoned with their parents? What efforts had been made to address racism from judges?
Violence had occurred during the 2019 crisis against certain groups, as well as in 2018. What reparations had been provided to victims? What measures were in place to ensure equal access to effective judicial systems for women and children?
Could the delegation provide information on progress made in reinforcing intercultural approaches and implementing the national training programme on the prevention of racism? What measures were in place to prevent stereotypes of indigenous and Afro-Bolivian populations, and to fight against racial prejudice and stereotypes?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said that the previous concluding observations on the State party were adopted in 2011. Two issues were raised by the Committee to be followed up within one year: one on acts of racist violence against indigenous peoples, and one on acts of discrimination against migrants. The Committee urged the State party to identify and hold to account perpetrators of violence against indigenous peoples. What progress had been made in this regard? The Committee had also urged the State party to ensure that refugees were not expelled to countries where they faced human rights violations. The State party had reported that as of 2017, it was providing residence cards to approved immigrants at no cost. Mr. Kut requested additional information on the adoption and implementation of new immigration legislation.
A Committee Expert asked about measures taken to address the specific concerns of different sectors of society. Could data on investigations and prosecutions regarding cases of racial discrimination be provided?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the Bolivian State had standards in place to ensure that its military and police complied with strict rules. The Government was implementing a strategic plan that incorporated actions in various sectors to promote equality and non-discrimination. The State had reached more than 10,000 civil servants with awareness raising campaigns on reducing and preventing racism and discrimination. A racial discrimination case register was in place; 73 complaints had been recorded in 2022. One sentence had been handed down that related specifically to racism and 16 cases involving discrimination were currently being tried.
There had been around 25 dismissals of police officers related to actions taken in 2019. A committee on combatting racial discrimination had been established; it incorporated nine Government ministries, private entities and non-governmental organizations. It was working to provide redress for racial discrimination that occurred in 2019. The coup and related discriminatory acts had harmed indigenous communities. There were obstacles to redressing damages to victims that the State was working to address. Massacres of indigenous peoples had been buried by the legal system. The State was working to implement amparo to retry these cases, but not enough progress had been made in this regard.
Indigenous and ordinary legal systems were addressed by the Constitution and State legislation. The State was still working to map the system. There was political will to reform legislation that permitted double criminalisation.
The coming 2024 census would cover every household, allowing the Government to collect detailed data on human development. The State party had created a new office dealing with indigenous issues that aimed to develop policies to restore land to indigenous peoples and prevent discrimination.
The State had taken actions to address hostility against unaccompanied foreign minors. From 2020 to 2022, 22,000 Venezuelan citizens had entered the country, 10 per cent of whom were children. In 2021, Bolivia approved a decree which allowed for the migratory regulation of foreigners; 4,000 foreigners had since received legal residency. The State had focused on providing more favourable conditions for children and adolescent migrants and supporting their access to health care. Nearly 500 children born to Venezuelan mothers had been registered in 2022 and 2023. Some 17,000 Venezuelan children were currently in the education system. Bolivia had a database of children and adolescents that had been modified to allow for demarking children who belonged to a vulnerable group.
It was worrisome that 19,000 children were in institutional foster settings in 2017, but this had been reduced to below 10,000 by 2020. There were 133 unaccompanied minors in Bolivia in 2022, a reduction of around 30 per cent from the previous year. Bolivia was adopting measures to provide detainees who were mothers with alternatives to detention.
Various concrete actions had been taken to promote indigenous populations’ access to the justice system. The police service was cooperating with other agencies to increase its capacity to address reports of discrimination. It had taken measures to eliminate racial profiling by officers. More than 12,000 police had been trained in preventing racial discrimination since 2022.
On 10 March 2015, Bolivia signed the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. Ratification of the Convention was currently being considered in the Senate.
Questions by Committee Experts
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that the State party needed to address the root causes of discrimination leading to the 2019 post-electoral crisis. Had measures been implemented to do this? The indigenous population continued to complain about the use of force by police officers. Had disciplinary measures been taken against police who misused force? Was domestic legislation on racial discrimination in line with the Convention?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how many indigenous and Afro-Bolivian children were in prison. What measures were in place to establish cooperation between ordinary and indigenous judicial systems? What measures had the State party taken to address stereotypes against the indigenous community?
Another Committee Expert said that there were shortcomings in support for victims of discrimination. How did the State party plan to remedy the situation? What was the status of the four cases currently before the courts involving discrimination?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the State was still in the process of raising awareness and working to eliminate the patriarchy. For the four cases addressed by the Committee, the perpetrators of racist acts had been convicted.
The majority of the Bolivian population was indigenous and went before the indigenous judicial system. The Constitutional Court had established equality between the two court systems.
Constitutional reform had led to a reduction in the number of children in prisons to around 120 in 2023. The State’s goal was to have no children in prison. The President had provided direct reparations for victims of discrimination and the State planned to expand such reparations and develop a law on reparation.
Questions by Committee Experts
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said the Committee had recommended that Bolivia adopt a framework law ensuring that indigenous peoples gave free, prior and informed consent before any projects that impacted on their land were carried out. What efforts had been made in this regard? What consultation processes were in place regarding such projects? How did the State obtain free, prior and informed consent? What measures were in place to ensure the security of the lands and natural resources of indigenous communities?
How was Bolivia guaranteeing access to quality health services for indigenous peoples? What measures were in place to train health staff and prevent stigmatisation in health services provided in rural areas? The State party needed to allocate sufficient human and financial resources to supporting education in rural areas. How was the State party collecting disaggregated data relating to the dropout rate? How was the State ensuring that indigenous children had access to technology and birth registration? Could more information be provided on the employment status of indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivians?
How was the State supporting Afro-Bolivian women and girls to access higher education? What provisions had been implemented to adopt a gender perspective and combat multiple discrimination of indigenous women and girls? What results had such measures had? How was the State party promoting the participation of indigenous women in political spheres? How was the State party disseminating information on violence against women to indigenous communities?
What measures were in place to address violence against indigenous peoples? What sentences had been handed down in relation to racial hatred? How was the State party preventing hate speech online and in other media, and how was such hate speech punished? How would the State party mark the end of the Decade of People of African Descent?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about measures to protect human rights defenders, particularly defenders of indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivians? How did the State party tackle threats against such human rights defenders? Certain indigenous peoples living close to mining operations were reportedly often threatened. How did the State protect these groups?
There were reports of arbitrary refoulement of asylum seekers. What legislation existed to prevent refoulement? What measures were in place to prevent, punish and prosecute harassment by law enforcement staff against migrants? What measures had the State party taken to combat xenophobia and racism against asylum seekers and refugees? The State party did not have a regulation on the protection of unaccompanied minors. Did it plan to develop such a regulation? Bolivia had not implemented a statelessness determination procedure. How would it implement such a procedure?
There had reportedly been a lack of implementation of the “single health system”, harming foreigners’ access to health services. What measures would be implemented to support foreigners’ access to health?
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, congratulated the State party on its project on decolonisation. How effective had land restoration efforts been? Ms. Shepherd also commended the State for establishing a ministry focused on depatriarchalisation. Had there been pushback from the community related to efforts towards depatriarchalisation?
Other Committee Experts asked questions on measures to alleviate poverty amongst indigenous groups and address the structural causes of poverty; steps to guarantee indigenous peoples’ rights to land, health and education; the composition of the national human rights institute, the resources allocated to it and its connections with other institutions; and access to education for vulnerable and indigenous groups and support for indigenous teachers.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that following the coup of 2019, a decree freed police of criminal responsibility in restoring domestic order. Police behaviour was often abusive during this time. There was no registry of cases of racial profiling.
The National Council of Autonomies had created an interinstitutional team to carry out the 2024 census. It would collect disaggregated data on health, education and housing, implementing the principle of self-identification to provide in-depth socio-economic data on different ethnic and language-speaking groups. This data would help to plan State policies on health, education and housing. There was a registry on violence that included information on the ethnicity of victims.
The National Committee against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination had implemented more than 7,500 prevention programmes. In 2022, the first national summit on racism and all forms of discrimination had been held, attracting over 11,000 participants. It had led to the drafting of a document on decolonisation and depatriarchalisation. Local governing bodies had been provided with around 190 million Bolivianos to combat racism and discrimination. Media organizations were required to implement mechanisms for self-oversight to prevent disseminating discriminatory messages. The State aimed to update its legislation to address online hate speech. There was a national action plan to fight racism for the period of 2021 to 2025. The plan established indicators to measure the implementation of its services. Through the plan, the State had reduced transmissible and non-transmissible diseases, strengthened access to its health services, and developed new modalities for accessing housing.
The State Prosecutor’s Office had received 319 complaints of racism. Over 1,000 other complaints of discrimination had been received, 80 per cent of which had been resolved. In 2022 and 2023, no complaints of racism against civil servants had been received. The judiciary had approved a protocol to introduce gender and human rights perspectives in the judicial system and improve access to justice for women and people of diverse sexual orientation, including indigenous women.
The State had established a commission for reporting to international human rights bodies and implementing their recommendations. This commission ensured follow-up to the recommendations of human rights bodies.
Bolivia had legislation ensuring coordination of State agencies’ efforts to guarantee the rights of unaccompanied minors. There was also a plurinational policy addressing trafficking in persons. Legislation established the principle of non-refoulement. No asylum seeker whose request was pending could be sent back to their country of origin. A mobile team was in place to provide identification papers to indigenous peoples and others living in rural areas.
A subsidy policy was in place that guaranteed free and universal access to health care. Models of participatory care were being implemented in indigenous communities. Health staff provided home and family visits. The health care model aimed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on indigenous peoples. Free hotlines provided remote medical consultations. From 2020 to 2023, 109 remote training programmes had been implemented for healthcare staff.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said he was delighted to hear that next year’s census would incorporate self-identification. He called for self-identification to be made systematic in all data collection processes. Measures needed to be implemented to ensure that all indigenous peoples could access Bolivian identity. There were companies polluting the land and the water, jeopardising the health of indigenous peoples. What was being done to reduce the impact of such projects on indigenous peoples? Were there plans to reduce the high mortality rate among indigenous women and girls during childbirth and abortion procedures?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that Bolivia needed to engage in technical cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support its migration services and protect the rights of migrants.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the Government aimed to document all Bolivian citizens. The State had set up a protection committee and a multi-sectoral support plan for indigenous communities in vulnerable situations.
The State had called on indigenous peoples to draft curricula for each indigenous language and culture. Thanks to its educational policies, Bolivia was now largely free of illiteracy. In 2019, the school dropout rate was 2.9 per cent. In 2023, it had dropped to 1.3 per cent. A stipend was introduced in 2006 to discourage school dropouts. The State was working to ensure that there was appropriate educational infrastructure in rural areas. Programmes were established for high-performing students to support their access to universities. Three universities for indigenous peoples had been established. Teacher training for indigenous peoples was supported by the State. The capacity of such training programmes had recently been expanded.
The Constitution protected the rights of Afro-Bolivian populations; 18,000 hectares of land had been passed to Afro-Bolivian communities, benefitting around 10,000 people. Afro-Bolivian people had access to land titles and could work their land. The State had titled more land to indigenous peoples than they had requested. The Constitution set forth the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted through their institutions regarding any mining, forestry or infrastructure projects that could affect them. The State had developed mechanisms for the notification of project proposals, consultations and agreement settlements. It had ratified International Labour Organization Convention 169 and was ensuring that free, prior and informed consent was obtained.
The State had allocated more than six billion Bolivianos to projects preventing school dropouts and aiming to reduce maternal and child mortality. There were stipends for neonatal care and for health care for persons with disabilities. Bolivia had been able to reduce its poverty index score from 21 per cent in 2019 to around 11 per cent in 2022.
The Criminal Code included aggravating factors that increased by at least one-third penalties for all crimes committed with racist motives.
Bolivia had implemented a law prohibiting political violence. The National Assembly had four indigenous women representatives. Autonomous governments had created seats dedicated to Afro-Bolivian and indigenous women. Measures had also been adopted to address violence against and harassment of women in political settings. An Ombudsperson had been appointed to monitor and receive complaints in this regard. The Ombudsperson’s Office had functional and financial autonomy.
BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said Bolivia had implemented meaningful measures to promote the rights of indigenous peoples and all groups protected by the Convention, but there were still significant gaps between legislation and its implementation. The Committee’s concluding observations would support the State to strengthen its implementation of the Convention.
SABINA ORELLANA CRUZ, Minister of Culture, Decolonisation and Depatriarchalisation of Bolivia and head of the delegation, said that the patriarchy had encouraged violence against women and the exploitation of vulnerable people and the environment. Social organizations, often led by women, were making collective efforts to restore the rights of women and other vulnerable groups and to repair the damages caused by patriarchal violence. Bolivia had made progress, including in promoting the participation of women in political spheres. Currently, 54 per cent of senators were women. Nearly 50 per cent of land titles had been granted to indigenous women. Legislation had been implemented to combat violence against women and promote the rights of children and adolescents.
The fight against racial discrimination was one of the most pressing challenges of our time, Ms. Orellana Cruz said. Bolivia deeply appreciated the valuable questions and contributions from the Committee. The dialogue had been an opportunity to reflect on areas where further efforts were needed to build a more just society. The State would work tirelessly to bolster its policies and practices to promote racial equality, in cooperation with all stakeholders. It hoped to build a society where all cultures and peoples were valued equally. Eradicating discrimination in all its forms was a central priority of the Government.
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