Blog: James Cavallaro

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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

Gregoria Siles mourns the death of her son Omar Calle hours after soldiers shot and killed him in Sacaba. She cries over a casket while others look on tearing up.
Gregoria Siles mourns the death of her son Omar Calle hours after soldiers shot and killed him in Sacaba. Photo Credit: Thomas Becker 2019.

(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.”

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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.

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