November 27, 2019 — Today, human rights groups expressed grave concern about continued tensions in Bolivia and the potential for further violence and loss of life. The groups call for an immediate and thorough investigation into violence and potential abuses that have occurred in recent days, including allegations of abuses perpetrated by state forces.
Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic; Andean Information Network; Latin America Working Group; Center for Justice and International Law; Washington Office on Latin America; EarthRights International; Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Juárez; Nelson Camilo Sánchez, Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at University of Virginia School of Law; and Arturo Carillo, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at George Washington University Law School, released the following statement:
“These allegations and all acts of reported violence require exhaustive investigation. We call for an immediate investigation into ongoing human rights abuses since October 20, 2019, and for international monitoring of the situation to deescalate tensions and avoid further violence.
“We also urge the interim Bolivian government and security forces to fulfill their obligation to respect international legal norms concerning the use of force in the context of protests. Both civilian officials and military superior officers can be held responsible for gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, under the doctrine of command responsibility, even if they do not directly order such violations. The government has an obligation to investigate, and superiors can be held responsible under international law if they fail to investigate, punish, or prevent violations.
“Additionally, in light of Supreme Decree 4078 (Decreto Supremo 4078), which was issued on November 15 by the interim government, we remind the interim Bolivian government and security forces that under binding jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, domestic measures that attempt to create impunity for gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, are incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights and a violation of its Articles 1.1, 2, 8, and 25. The decree purports to provide immunity for members of the armed forces for all actions taken while ‘participating in operations to reestablish internal order and stability’ in the context of the ongoing protests. The executive branch should not determine the criminal responsibility of state security forces. To prevent creating an atmosphere of impunity, we urge the government to repeal this decree.
“Finally, we remind the Bolivian authorities of their international obligations to investigate all injuries and deaths that result from the use of force by state agents. The situation in Bolivia requires a thorough and independent expert assessment of all documented and denounced human rights violations. To this end, we urge Bolivia to collaborate with all international monitoring and investigative missions, including from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN experts, as well as efforts developed by civil society. These initiatives will help Bolivia start down a path towards truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.”
Eyewitness testimony, videos, and photos collected in Bolivia by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and the Andean Information Network during an initial fact-finding visit in Cochabamba and Sacaba on November 15 and 16, as well as video footage and photos from civilians on the ground in the areas of Cochabamba, Sacaba, Senkata, and the Zona Sur of La Paz, demonstrate:
- There is credible evidence that state forces have used live rounds against civilian protesters in various parts of the country.
- In the area of Cochabamba, protestors have reported fear of going to hospitals out of concern that the current government may retaliate against anyone who was present or near the areas where the military was shooting civilians. This fear may have exacerbated the underreporting of death and injury tolls.
- In the area of the Zona Sur of La Paz, there is credible evidence that state forces acting in conjunction with civilians have forcibly removed civilians from their homes and beaten them.
- There are pervasive reports of state forces using racist and anti-indigenous language during encounters with civilians.
- Communities affected by military violence have expressed deep concern about the lack of journalists to document the actions of the military and their aftermath. Numerous interviewees stated that the killings in their communities were being underreported in the media. This is particularly concerning in the context of threats to journalists documented by Bolivia’s Human Rights Ombudsman and recent statements by the Minister of Communication threatening to punish “seditious” media.
Video evidence shows deployment of security forces in different parts of the country, among them La Paz (including the areas of El Alto and Zona Sur) and Cochabamba. Human rights groups have received reports of killings, beatings, and gunshot injuries in areas including: predominantly Aymara indigenous communities in the department of La Paz, including the city of El Alto, Rio Abajo, and the communities of Chasquipampa, Ovejuyo, Apaña, and Rosales in the Zona Sur of the city of La Paz; the Yungas region; and the department of Cochabamba.