Bolivia: Amnesty International denounces impunity for human rights violations committed during post-election crisis

Amnesty International has documented human rights violations committed during the post-election crisis in Bolivia, including the repression of demonstrations and excessive and unnecessary use of force by the National Police and the Armed Forces, in a report containing recommendations to candidates in the next presidential elections, announced for 18 October.

At least 35 people have died and 833 have been injured in the context of protests since the elections of 20 October 2019, according to information contained in the report Healing the pandemic of impunity: 20 human rights recommendations for candidates in the 2020 presidential elections in Bolivia.

“Bolivia faces a grave socio-political crisis, which puts the country at a crossroads. The nation’s only viable means of emerging from this crisis is to put the human rights of all its people at the centre of its response. Otherwise, the population, especially historically marginalized groups, are condemned to spiralling violence and continuing violations of their rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

As Bolivia prepares for the next presidential elections, announced for 18 October following two postponements, the country is going through a serious social, political and human rights crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 13, Bolivian Ministry of Health figures indicate that more than 3,800 have died and 96,000 people have tested positive in the context of the health emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only serious crisis facing Bolivia. The presidential candidates must also commit to take urgent measures to heal the historical pandemic of impunity that is afflicting the country
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Demonstrations, including roadblocks, protesting against the postponement of the elections have intensified in recent days, amid complaints that the blockades are preventing key supplies for dealing with COVID-19 from reaching various communities that need them. There have also been reports of violence by some protesters and between groups of protesters, with interventions by the security forces.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only serious crisis facing Bolivia. The presidential candidates must also commit to take urgent measures to heal the historical pandemic of impunity that is afflicting the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“Without truth and justice, there are no guarantees of non-repetition of the human rights violations that we have documented. In this context of polarization and mistrust, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) represents a real opportunity to guarantee justice, which is why it is important that Bolivia makes a commitment to guarantee that it can work in the country.”

Amnesty International’s recommendations to the presidential candidates focus on ensuring that human rights violations committed during the post-election crisis that began in October 2019 are investigated, guaranteeing the rights of victims and preventing further human rights violations.

Bolivian member of the National Comite for Democracy Defense (CONADE), Waldo ALbarracin speaks during a press conference calling bolivian people to protest in defense of democracy, in La Paz, on October 27, 2019. - An important platform that articulates the regional civic committees (Conade), raised on Sunday the annulment of the controversial general elections in Bolivia, won by President Evo Morales in the first round, and called for the convening of other elections with a new electoral tribunal. Bolivian member of the National Comite for Democracy Defense (CONADE), Waldo ALbarracin speaks during a press conference calling bolivian people to protest in defense of democracy, in La Paz, on October 27, 2019. - An important platform that articulates the regional civic committees (Conade), raised on Sunday the annulment of the controversial general elections in Bolivia, won by President Evo Morales in the first round, and called for the convening of other elections with a new electoral tribunal.
Waldo Albarracín was physically attacked and his house was set on fire by a mob the day former president Evo Morales resigned (AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty Images)

For this report, Amnesty International interviewed more than 60 people, including relatives of the victims of human rights violations committed in the context of the protests in Sacaba and the blockade of the state-owned petrol company YPFB in Senkata; people who witnessed the events, most of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals; and journalists and human rights defenders.

The events that occurred in November 2019 in Sacaba and Senkata, in which at least 18 people died from firearm injuries, are emblematic of the crisis. The statements and evidence collected strongly indicate that the National Police and the Armed Forces used disproportionate and unnecessary force, but the competent authorities have not clarified what happened. Amnesty International urges presidential candidates to adopt measures to ensure independent, impartial and urgent investigations to prevent continuing impunity for these events.

The report also documents threats and harassment against human rights defenders, for example the case of Waldo Albarracín, who was physically attacked and whose house was set on fire by a mob the day former president Evo Morales resigned. Criminal investigations into these events remain stalled and the state has not provided adequate protection to ensure human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate work. 

Amnesty International is also concerned about the rhetoric used about human rights in Bolivia. On several occasions during the post-election crisis, senior members of the previous government issued statements calling for violence and threatening to blockade cities if the strikes continued. For its part, the interim government has harassed and threatened political opponents and those perceived as such, as well as making public threats against political leaders accused of spreading “misinformation” and against journalists accused of “sedition”. The government has also accused people of participating in “destabilization and disinformation movements” and of conducting a “virtual war” against it.

The Bolivian authorities, at all levels, must fulfil their duty to guarantee the right to health and take measures that also guarantee the right to peaceful protest
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Such harassment unduly limits freedom of expression in the country by giving rise to censorship of political leaders, journalists and human rights defenders, including health workers. This may also be perceived by other powerful actors as sending a dangerous message of tolerance for acts that threaten or censor contrary opinions, and as carte blanche for impunity.

The report recommends that the presidential candidates make a commitment to guarantee that the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI Bolivia) is promptly installed, under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The agreement to establish the GIEI is a commitment that interim President Jeanine Añez has undertaken, but it has yet to be implemented. The independence of GIEI Bolivia is essential in order to determine and clarify the acts of violence and human rights violations committed in the country between 1 September and 31 December 2019.

Amnesty International also calls on the Bolivian authorities to take urgent measures to address the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which in recent weeks has reached very worrying dimensions in the country, disproportionately affecting those in vulnerable situations, especially Indigenous Peoples.

“COVID-19 is claiming the health and lives of thousands of people in Bolivia. The blockade on supplies is unacceptable, because it is a grave violation of the human rights of those most at risk from the pandemic. The Bolivian authorities, at all levels, must fulfil their duty to guarantee the right to health and take measures that also guarantee the right to peaceful protest,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please call: Carlos Mendoza: carlos.mendoza@amnesty.org