Commissioners: Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Margarette May Macaulay, Paulo Abrao, Luis Ernesto Vargas

Participants: State of Bolivia, Fundación Observatorio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos, Human Rights Foundation (HRF)

Country: Bolivia

Topics: Rule of Law, Independence of the Judiciary, Political Rights

Petitioners gathered before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, to express their concerns about the fourth re-election of President Evo Morales in Bolivia. Despite voters’ rejection of amendments, that would allow additional terms in office, to Bolivia’s constitutional provision, the Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia allowed President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019, citing Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) which guarantees the right of citizens to be elected. During the hearing, dozens of Morales’ supporters gathered in front of the IACHR to demonstrate their approval for his re-election.

Among the Petitioners were Waldo Albarracín, José Antonio Rivera, Ruben Darío Cuéllar, and Mauricio Alarcón from Fundación Observatorio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos. Petitioners claimed that the Plurinational Constitutional Court’s decision ran contrary to the provisions of the Bolivian Constitution and noted that citizens had already voiced their disapproval of the re-election in the 2016 referendum. Petitioners argued that the Court’s ruling violates the civil and political rights of Bolivian citizens that are protected under the Convention.

Present on the State’s behalf were the chancellor, Diego Pary, the ambassador to the OAS, José Gonzales, the Minister of Justice, Héctor Arce, and the Attorney General of Bolivia, Pablo Menacho. The State assured the Commission that the Plurinational Constitutional Court’s decision is legitimate, that it took the jurisprudence of the Inter-American System of Human Rights into account, and that it complied with the rules for interpreting the Constitution. The State defended Morales’ right to run for re-election by arguing that Article 23 of the Convention clearly establishes the rights “to take part in the conduct of public affairs” and “to be elected.”  The State concluded that imposing barriers to re-election would violate the provisions of this article. In addition, the State expressed concern about the ulterior motive behind Petitioners’ complaint and what they calculated to gain from this hearing.

In response, Petitioners requested the IACHR to interpret Article 23 of the Convention. Specifically, Petitioners sought clarification as to whether Article 23 recognizes the human right to indefinite re-election or the indefinite nomination of an elected public servant. Furthermore, Petitioners asked whether the right to be elected can be restricted or limited for the reasons or causes established by the Convention or by other political, historical, and social needs.

Commissioners began their review by commending the fact that this hearing was held, as it reinforced the link between democracy and human rights. Commissioners also consulted the parties regarding whether any possibility of appeal from the Constitutional Court’s decision would be available. After learning that the Constitutional Court’s decision was final and not appealable, Commissioners concluded that the jurisprudence of the Inter-American System is vast and needs to be examined in a comprehensive fashion. For this reason, the IACHR postponed the case to another day to allow for time to reply. The IACHR did not set a date to rule on Morales’ reelection. This hearing is significant to the people of Bolivia because it reinforces their political rights through national effort and international cooperation.