A number of initiatives in the area of economic, social and cultural rights resulted in improvements in education and health services and in the recognition of the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and campesinos (peasant farmers). Further weakening of the judicial system undermined fair trial guarantees.
In December, President Evo Morales won a second term in office, gaining a two-thirds majority for his party in the legislature. A new Constitution was approved by voters in January and promulgated in February following more than two years of political negotiation. The Constitution asserts the centrality of Bolivia’s “plurinational” Indigenous majority and contains provisions to advance economic, social and cultural rights.
Political violence diminished, but political polarization continued to affect public life. In April, an elite police unit killed three men suspected of organizing an armed plot against the central government in the city of Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold. Concerns were subsequently raised about the way in which the investigations were conducted.
Investigations into some 140 cases of reported rapes in Manitoba Mennonite communities were initiated. Young girls were alleged to be among the victims.
There were continuing concerns about the independence of the judiciary. Political tensions undermined the ability of key institutions to discuss proposals for reform of the judiciary in a co-ordinated manner.
The last remaining Constitutional Court judge resigned in June, leaving a backlog of over 4,000 cases and no mechanism for oversight of constitutional guarantees
There were concerns that the continuing instability and politicization in the justice system could weaken the application of international fair trial standards. In 2009, many judges and law officers, including several Supreme Court judges, were disqualified and charged with procedural irregularities. Among them was Supreme Court President Eddy Fernández who was suspended in May on the grounds that he had allegedly intentionally delayed the “Black October” case (see below) with intent.
Legal challenges hindered progress in several high-profile cases, leading to allegations of political interference. For example, challenges over jurisdiction slowed progress in the case relating to the outbreak of violence in September 2008 in Pando department which left 19 people, mostly campesinos, dead. Allegations that judges assigned to some cases failed to act with impartiality resulted in further procedural challenges.
Two special commissions established by the Chamber of Deputies in 2008 presented their findings on both the racist violence that occurred in Sucre in May 2008 and the Pando massacre. At the end of the year, a number of local officials and leaders were on trial charged with torture and public order offences in Sucre. The Deputies recommended that over 70 people, including former Pando Prefect Leopoldo Fernández, be charged for their role in the Pando massacre. A trial was expected to start in early 2010.
In May, the trial began of 17 senior officials, including former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, in connection with the “Black October” events of October 2003 in which at least 67 people were killed and more than 400 injured in clashes between the security forces and demonstrators protesting against government proposals to sell off national gas resources. At the end of the year, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada remained in the USA awaiting the outcome of an extradition request. Several former ministers charged in the case left Bolivia during 2009, thus evading prosecution.
In November, a US court ruled that sufficient grounds existed to try Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former Defence Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín in the USA in a civil suit for damages in relation to charges of crimes against humanity and carrying out extrajudicial executions.
Former Interior Minister Luis Arce Gómez was extradited from the USA to Bolivia. On arrival he was given a 30-year prison sentence. He had been convicted in 1993 of enforced disappearance, torture, genocide and murder committed in 1980 and 1981.
Forensic work to locate the remains of members of an armed opposition movement who were forcibly disappeared in 1970 began in July in Teoponte, a rural area 300km from La Paz. By the end of the year, nine bodies had been found. The search for the remains of around 50 others believed to have died in the area was continuing at the end of the year.
The Ministry of Defence approved a procedure allowing documentation relating to past human rights violations to be requested from the armed forces. President Morales initially insisted that no files existed relating to people who were forcibly disappeared under previous governments.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
In May, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues published a report which acknowledged the steps taken by the Bolivian authorities to identify servitude, forced labour, bonded labour and enslavement of captive families. The report criticized entrenched interests prevalent in lowland prefectures and civic committees that allowed such abuses to continue.
- In July, the Vice-Minister for Land announced a new programme to settle approximately 2,000 families from Cochabamba and La Paz departments to 200,000 hectares of lands identified as federal land in Pando department. In August, the first families were moved to these lands. However, there were concerns about the lack of infrastructure and services available to them and the programme was cancelled.
A government initiative to reduce maternal mortality began in May, granting mothers a cash incentive to attend free pre- and post-natal check-ups. Take-up was high, but there were reports that women who did not have birth certificates encountered obstacles in accessing this health care. Health professionals reported an increase in the number of clandestine abortions and teenage pregnancies during the year, but there were no comprehensive reliable figures to confirm this.
Amnesty International visit
- Amnesty International delegates visited Bolivia in August.