CSOs seek international help to fight law violating freedom of association

Association

After the Constitutional Court ruled in July that the Law on Legal Personalities does not violate any constitutional right, a group of Bolivian civil society organisations decided to take their case to international human rights bodies. The law grants the Executive discretionary powers to shut down civil society organisations which are deemed not to be contributing to the economic and social development of the country. On 5th October, four human rights organisations pettitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take a stand, on the grounds that certain aspects of the law violate the freedom of association.

Three weeks later on 26th Octuber, Red Unitas and other Bolivian CSOs took their demand for the protection of the freedom of association to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Civil society spokespeople reported that the decision to resort to international human rights bodies came after all domestic remedies had been exhausted.

Days after the submission to the IACHR had been made, however, the Bolivian Minister of Autonomies warned that IACHR rulings were not binding:

'[CSOs] have a right to submit appeals that will have no binding effect, sanction or decision against our legislation, which is sovereign and emanates from the Political Constitution of the State. [This law] is backed by a constitutional ruling of the highest level, so there is no further instance of appeal available.'

Expression

On 28th September, the CSO coalition Regional Alliance for the Freedom of Expression and Information presented its 2016 report 'Saber mas: VIII'. The report is a regional survey of the situation of access to public information in Latin America. In the case of Bolivia, the report states that the potentially positive effects of a decreee in 2016 which grants access to public information has been offset by citizens' lack of familiarity with the exercise of this right and an ongoing 'emergency situation' described as follows:

'Bolivia is living in a state of emergency in which verbal attacks against the media and journalists occur constantly. [...] Journalists' requests for information through forms addressed at high-ranking authorities are not responded to in a timely matter, and many of them are archived. Public institutions' online sites do not display the information required by journalists, media or the general public. They are virtual sites with poor information which often display phone numbers and email addresses without a designated person to respond to.'

In an interview, the Regional Alliance's Executive Director Moisés Sánchez said that Bolivia is one of three Latin American countries (the other two are Venezuela and Cuba) lacking a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Sánchez continued:

'FOIAs are the basis for democratic dialogue. Countries with FOIAs allow for a more horizontal relationship between citizens and the state. [...] This is also the basis on which citizens can access information that can improve their quality of life, including regarding education, housing and health services.'

During its 72nd General Assembly, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) reported that three Bolivian journalists had been attacked during the mining workers' protests in mid-August. In a resolution on Bolivia, the IAPA also expressed concern regarding the government's request that journalists surrender footage of the protests, a move which would turn them into legal witnesses and force them towards self-censorship:

'Journalists cannot become witnesses in legal proceedings because this inhibits them and forces their self-censorship in covering conflicts and other news events.'