Political Rights and Judicial Independence in Bolivia

Versión española disponible aquí

Commissioners: Rose-Marie Belle Antoine; Rodrigo Escobar Gil; Rosa María Ortiz; Elizabeth. Abi-Mershed, Assistant Executive Secretary

Petitioners: Fundacion Nueva Democracia which included Dr. Silvia Al Ahmad  and Rubén Darío Cuéllar Suárez

State: Bolivia

Petitioners before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asserted that the Bolivian executive has had a complete lack of respect for the judiciary, claiming that grave human rights volitions have taken place through Bolivian politics.

Photo credit: Andrea Flynn-Schneider

At the hearing on October 29, the Petitioners from the New Democracy Foundation alleged that there has been a pattern of irregular removals of democratically elected officials within the judiciary as a result of political motivation on behalf of the executive. Not only have there been constant violations of freedom of expression, they assert, but Bolivia has breached the American Convention on Human Rights. They stressed that their petition was not about denunciation of the judiciary, but instead was a call for respect so there can be free and fair judicial action without the current government standing in the way. The Petitioners attributed to the State over 1,000 violations of the right to liberty, 66 deaths as a result of political violence associated with social conflict, and the unlawful removal from office of 70 democratically elected authorities.

According to the Petitioners, Bolivia has inserted a number of politicians into the judiciary, which had no backing by the population; they claim that this is because the State discredits decisions of the constitutional court when those decisions do not favor the executive. Finally, the Petitioners claimed that Bolivia does not answer hearings in a clear and timely manner, and as such, those prosecuted for crimes have no legitimate defense. They spoke about former Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto who received asylum in Brazil, but for more than 13 months the Bolivian government refused to provide him with safe passage that made it possible for him to return. While there, he was denied an interpreter to testify in his native language or submit court pleadings in the same. He had to sign official statements even when he did not fully understand them, since they were not in his native language. The Petitioners assert that human rights violations must cease and that a new political system needs to be implemented which invokes respect for the judiciary.

However, the representatives from Bolivia claimed that these alleged situations have yet to be seen by the current administration. They charged the New Democracy Foundation with being politicians camouflaging themselves under false petitioning for human rights, and asserted that the Petitioners are only pretending to advocate for human rights in order to participate in politics. The State argued that the Petitioners have a limited understanding of what democracy is in Bolivia and that, in fact, there have been significant strides in structurally encompassing all cultures into politics, including those cultures that have been marginalized in the past. Bolivia emphasized that judicial authorities are the result of the popular will only, and the sovereign decision made by the Bolivian people. Addressing the claim of those that were removed from office, Bolivia stated that these judges face proceedings on political corruption and are welcome to face trial. While they agreed that detention might be a problem in their country, they asserted that this issue is not tied to the claims made by the Petitioners. There may be imperfections within the Bolivian state, they claim, but these imperfections have been vastly improved over the previous government.

The Commissioners expressed concern regarding the importance that a democratic government respect separation of powers in order for there to be an effective and true democracy. They also expressed concern with the high rate of preventive detentions and emphasized the need for people to be provided the ability to defend themselves in their native language in trials. It was concluded that both parties would need to submit supplements to their oral arguments with further information to make it possible for the court to accurately and objectively delve deeper into the events in Bolivia. Specifically, the Commissioners want to know how the constitutional court is functioning in light of all the complaints of dismissal and removals of democratically elected officials; has due process been respected, is removal on the grounds of a basis set forth in the law issued by a competent judge after a proper proceeding; and what laws are in place to control oversight, and are they effective? Both parties pledged to submit answers, and the Commission pledged to further look into the alleged events.

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