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August 19, 2020
La Clínica insta a expertos de la ONU a que evalúen violaciones de derechos humanos en Bolivia (La versión en español está abajo).
(August 19, 2020) —United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteurs must urgently review the human rights situation in Bolivia, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic said in a submission to the U.N. Special Procedure system today. Widespread rights violations have been documented in Bolivia since the disputed October 2019 election, and there are grave concerns that ongoing repression will prevent upcoming elections from being free and fair.
The submission documents events since Jeanine Áñez declared an interim government on November 12, 2019. It details the killing of civilians in Sacaba and Senkata in November of last year, failures to investigate and punish those responsible, as well as state forces’ and para-state groups’ efforts to suppress dissent. The urgent need for international scrutiny was brought home this week as protests grew in response to the government decision to postpone elections again until October. News sources have reported a growing crisis in Bolivia as protests have renewed and fears of another violent crackdown intensify. The Clinic urges the U.N. rights experts to work with the Bolivian government to uphold international obligations, restore the rights owed to its citizens, and hold the fair and free elections they have promised to the Bolivian people.
“Given what I witnessed in Sacaba last November where Indigenous civilians were shot and killed by state forces, the rhetoric of the current government in response to the resumption of mass protests is extremely worrying,” said Thomas Becker JD’08 on behalf of the International Human Rights Clinic. “The people of Bolivia have the right to protest, and the international community needs to act to do all it can to prevent a repeat of last year’s violent crackdown and those horrific killings.”
The submission is a request to the U.N. Special Procedure system, which is comprised of U.N.-appointed human rights experts who are charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide. The submission builds on a recently released report from the International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, which identified the period since November 2019 as one of the deadliest and most repressive periods in the past several decades in Bolivia. Over a period of six months, a Clinic team interviewed over 200 victims, witnesses, journalists, and officials. It further analyzed medical reports, autopsies, photographs, and other official documents. The report, entitled “‘They Shot Us Like Animals’: Black November and Bolivia’s Interim Government,” details how the interim government has created a climate of oppression, rife with violence, fear, and misinformation. In addition, the submission to the U.N. states, “State forces have blocked attempts to investigate and prosecute the November attacks, leading to de facto impunity to date for those responsible.”
“The current atmosphere of impunity has created an environment that is dangerous to anyone who dissents,” said Celeste Kmiotek JD’20, a Harvard Law graduate who led the drafting of the submission. “It is critical that Bolivia address the human rights abuses ahead of the upcoming elections so that they are truly fair. The Special Rapporteurs should should engage with the interim government to put an end to these violations.”
Kmiotek coordinated research and writing from other clinical teams members, including Matthew Farrell JD’21, Jasmine Shin JD’21, Sabrina Singh JD’20, Mahmood Serewel LLM’20 with supervision from Becker and Tyler Giannini, Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director.
The submission comes on the heels of a recent victory against impunity for former heads of states’ crimes against Indigenous peoples in Bolivia. On August 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a trial court judgment that had been entered in favor of Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous people in 2003 in what is known as “Black October.” The Clinic has been litigating the case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, for over a decade.Continue Reading…
July 27, 2020
Summary executions and widespread repression under Bolivia’s interim government reports rights advocates from Harvard and University Network for Human Rights
Advocates call for a stop to state repression and violence, a turn to accountability, and a clear path to free and fair elections
(Cambridge, MA, July 27, 2020) –– Four days after the Interim Bolivian Government suspended elections again, Harvard Law School’s (HLS) International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) released a report on the gross human rights abuses carried out under Bolivia’s interim President, Jeanine Áñez. The report documents one of the deadliest and most repressive periods in the past several decades in Bolivia as well as the growing fear of indigenous peoples and government critics that their lives and safety are in danger.
“We have identified very troubling patterns of human rights violations since the Interim Government took power. These abuses create a climate where the possibility of free and fair elections is seriously undermined,” said Thomas Becker, an international human rights attorney with UNHR and a 2018-2020 clinical instructor in HLS’s International Human Rights Clinic.
Áñez assumed power on November 12, 2019 with the mandate of calling new elections by January 2020. Under her administration, Bolivia has endured a surge of human rights violations. Shortly after Áñez took power, state forces carried out operations that killed at least 23 Bolivian civilians, all indigenous, and injured over 230. These casualties make November 2019 the second-deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly 40 years ago.
Since November, the interim government has continued to persecute people that it perceives to be outspoken opponents of the Áñez administration. The government has intimidated the press, shutting down critical news outlets and arresting “seditious” journalists. Áñez’s forces have arrested or detained hundreds of former politicians for vague crimes such as “sedition” and “terrorism.”
The HLS and UNHR report offers recommendations to the interim government to enforce its domestic and international obligations. First among these recommendations is that the interim government fulfill its commitment to hold free and fair presidential elections as quickly as possible.
“We are spiraling deeper into authoritarianism,” warned Felipa López Apaza, whose brother Juan was killed in Black November. “We need elections as soon as possible or they will keep coming after us.”Continue Reading…
June 17, 2016
Human Rights Case Against Former Bolivian President for Role in 2003 Massacre Cleared to Move Forward
Court of Appeals Rejects Defendants’ Attempt to Have Case Dismissed
Miami, FL –More than 12 years after government-planned massacres in Bolivia killed 58 unarmed civilians, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday rejected an effort to scuttle a lawsuit against the former President of Bolivia and his Minister of Defense, both of whom are currently living in the United States. Instead, the appellate court sent the case back to the district court with a mandate to proceed to discovery.
In Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain, the families of eight Bolivians killed in the massacres filed suit against the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and his former Bolivian defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, charging they ordered extrajudicial killings. The lawsuit alleges that, months in advance of the violence, the two defendants devised a plan to kill thousands of civilians, and that they intentionally used deadly force against political protests in an effort to quash political opposition. In addition to the deaths, more than 400 civilians were injured when security forces fired on unarmed civilians.
In today’s unanimous decision, the appeals court held that a federal statute, the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), permits plaintiffs to sue in U.S. court for extrajudicial killing after they have exhausted the remedies available in their home country. The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that it should dismiss the case because the plaintiffs received some compensation and humanitarian assistance in Bolivia. The decision sets an important legal precedent because no federal appellate court had previously considered the defendants’ argument on exhaustion of remedies abroad.Continue Reading…
March 10, 2015
Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein
After 11 long years of litigation, plaintiffs from Somalia learned yesterday that their $21 million judgment for damages for torture and war crimes would stand. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the appeal of the defendant, General Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former Somali Prime Minister and Minister of Defense who was implicated in the abuses. Samantar, who now lives in Virginia, can make no additional appeals.
Beyond the victory for the plaintiffs, counsel from the Center for Justice & Accountability noted this ruling is critically important because it preserves a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found egregious rights violations cannot be considered “official acts” shielded by sovereign immunity.
The ruling comes amidst ongoing debate about how the United States should treat high-ranking former foreign government officials who are accused of human rights abuses and are now living in the United States. The International Human Rights Clinic and its partners have been involved since 2007 in one such case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which brings Alien Tort Statute claims against the former President and the former Defense Minister of Bolivia for their role in extrajudicial killings in 2003. Last Friday, the Mamani plaintiffs filed a brief with the Eleventh Circuit opposing the defendants’ appeal, which is considering the issues of exhaustion of remedies and command responsibility.
Like Samantar, the defendants in Mamani came to the United States after leaving power, and have remained in the country ever since.
November 22, 2011
Posted by Cara Solomon
As we wind down for Thanksgiving week, here are a few recommendations for bus/train/plane reading. We’ve enjoyed these blogs and websites over the past few months—and hope you will too.
The first is a series of in-depth interviews the Harvard Law School Human Rights Journal is running on its website. In the first installment, James Tager, JD ’13, interviews Osama Siddique, an Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, recent S.J.D. graduate from Harvard Law, and Pakistani legal scholar. The topic: Siddique’s recent scholarship on Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
We’re also religiously checking the blogs by Ben Hoffman, JD ’11, and Marissa Vahlsing, JD ’11, who are helping to set up an office for EarthRights International (ERI) in Peru. Ben and Marissa were fixtures on HRP’s blue couch last year; this year, they’re working as Henigson fellows, focusing on indigenous land rights and the environment in the Amazon.
Ben’s latest post explores the protest by thousands of indigenous people in Bolivia over a proposed highway through their territory. Marissa most recently wrote about a trip into the Amazon to meet indigenous leaders in the Ucayali region of Peru. The leaders’ main concern: a proposed highway that would cut through some indigenous communities, and expose others to unwanted contact with the outside world.
If you have suggestions for what we should read, and/or encourage others to read, please email me at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.
May 16, 2011
Appeals Court to Hear Arguments in Case Charging Former Bolivian President for Role in 2003 Massacre
May 16, 2011, Miami, FL —The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Miami, Florida in Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain. The case brings claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) on behalf of ten Bolivian plaintiffs against the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and Bolivian defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for their roles in a 2003 massacre that included targeted killings of unarmed civilians. Both defendants now live in the United States.
“The United States should not be a safe haven for individuals who commit serious human rights violations,” said Judith Brown Chomsky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who will argue the appeal on behalf of the plaintiffs. “The Alien Tort Statute is an important tool for fighting impunity, and allows our clients to seek justice for the deaths of their loved ones.”
The oral argument will be heard tomorrow morning, May 17, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. at the King Federal Justice Building, 99 Northeast Fourth Street, Miami, FL.
The district court previously ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on the motion to dismiss, allowing claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity to proceed against both defendants. The defendants are contesting this ruling on appeal.
The oral argument will address three legal questions: (1) whether the defendants are entitled to immunity, despite an explicit waiver of immunity from the Bolivian government, which the U.S. government accepted; (2) whether the case presents a non-justiciable political question; and (3) whether the complaint, alleging intentional killings of peaceful civilians, states cognizable claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Statute.Continue Reading…
April 4, 2011
Posted by Susan Farbstein
On May 17, the Eleventh Circuit will hear arguments in Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain. The International Human Rights Clinic represents 10 Bolivian plaintiffs in this case against the former Bolivian president and defense minister for their roles in a 2003 massacre that included targeted killings of unarmed civilians. Back in November 2009, the district court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on the motion to dismiss, allowing claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity to proceed against both defendants.
Three legal issues are presented by the appeal: (1) whether the defendants are entitled to immunity, despite an explicit waiver of immunity from the Bolivian government, which the U.S. government accepted, (2) whether the case presents a non-justiciable political question, and (3) whether the complaint, alleging intentional killings of peaceful civilians, states cognizable claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Statute.
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