Bolivia must reform military justice to meet international human rights standards

The Plurinational Constitutional Court’s decision to refer the case of the killing of second lieutenant Grover Beto Poma Guanto to a civilian court is a step in the right direction for the protection of human rights in Bolivia, Amnesty International said today.

Second lieutenant Poma died at the age of 26 in February 2011, two days after he suffered a beating at the hands of seven instructors during military training at the Escuela de Cóndores de Bolivia (ESCOBOL), in Sanandita, Tarija department.

According to the press, the Plurinational Constitutional Court’s sentence urges the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to replace the military penal standards which were approved on 22 January 1976 in Decree 13321, and to make them compliant with the Constitution and with international human rights treaties which oblige Bolivia to exclude cases of human rights abuses from military jurisdiction.

“The sentence in the Poma case sends a very positive signal that Bolivia is applying international standards in cases of human rights abuses,” said Maria José Eva, Bolivia Researcher at Amnesty International.

“We hope that this decision ensures the swift resolution of this case, that Second Lieutenant Poma’s family finally get justice for the death of their loved one and that this crime does not go unpunished.”

Amnesty International has expressed its concern at the repeated use of the military justice system for cases involving civilians to Bolivia’s authorities and those of other countries on numerous occasions, as the military’s jurisdiction over legal cases should be restricted to cases of military crimes only.

“In the past it has been demonstrated that in military trials, human rights abuses committed by the military and the police are dealt with in a biased manner, which is why these cases must be resolved in civilian courts,” said Maria José Eva.

Amnesty International urges the Bolivian legislative authorities to reform military laws so that they meet international standards in line with the sentence issued by the Plurinational Constitutional Court and with Bolivia’s international human rights commitments.