December 4, 2019

International law experts urge Bolivian Government to abide by international legal obligations


On November 26, 2019, experts in international law urged the Bolivian Government to abide by its international legal obligations to protect the freedom of assembly and prohibit the excessive use of force against civilian protesters. In a statement signed by a former president and a former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission, two former and the current UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, two former UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Conditions, as well as leading scholars in international law, the experts made clear what the Bolivian Government’s obligations are under international law.

Since October 20, 2019, there have been reports of deaths and injuries resulting from Bolivia’s social conflict. “In recent weeks, however, there has been a marked increase in the number of reported deaths attributed to security forces policing protests,” said Thomas Becker, Instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “The escalation in the use of lethal force by the Bolivian military and security forces is extremely concerning.”

In their statement, the experts highlighted that Bolivia’s international legal obligations require it to ensure that security forces responding to protests only use lethal force to protect life and only as a last resort. Indiscriminately firing into a crowd of protesters is never allowed.

The experts also raised concerns about the Bolivian Government’s apparent attempt to institute impunity measures through Supreme Decree 4078, which was issued on November 15, 2019. The decree purports to immunize “personnel of the Armed Forces participating in the operations to reestablish internal order and stability” for all actions undertaken in response to the current protests in the country. Under international law, domestic measures that attempt to create such impunity for gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, are invalid.

“The Inter-American Court has held time and again that actions seeking to create impunity for gross human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention. Governments and their security forces should know that they are not above the law despite domestic measures attempting to immunize them, and the Supreme Decree should be rescinded,” said Claret Vargas, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability.

Read the full statement on the Center for Justice and Accountability’s website here. The International Human Rights Clinic is currently investigating the human rights situation in Bolivia since the October elections, including reports of deaths and injuries.

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