Civil society meeting in Bolivia calls for an enabling environment for human rights defenders

Association

On 30th and 31st July 2019, Bolivia’s Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (National Union of Institutions for Social Action Work - Unitas) convened a National Meeting of Rights Defenders. The event sought to outline strategies for collective action in tackling rights restrictions as well as the risks faced by human rights defenders. According to Unitas Director Susana Erostegui, Bolivia currently lacks a specific policy formally recognising human rights defenders, which is necessary to guarantee an enabling environment for the defence of human rights and for civil society. Participants in the meeting also highlighted that women and indigenous peoples are the groups most vulnerable to rights violations in the country.

Peaceful Assembly

On 21st August 2019, the “21-F” Movement convened protests in different Bolivian cities. 21-F refers to the referendum held on 21st February 2016 about amending Bolivia’s Constitution to allow the re-election of the president for more than two consecutive terms. By a narrow margin, the population rejected the amendments – a result later challenged in electoral court. As previously reported on the Monitor, the 21-F Movement has organised several demonstrations opposing President Morales’ candidacy for re-election and demanding his resignation.

During the 21-F demonstration in Cochabamba, the police arrested six people for allegedly attempting to puncture the tyres of vehicles while street blockades were taking place. Speaking to newspaper Los Tiempos, one activist claimed that they were unjustly detained and were only exercising their right to protest. Also during the Cochabamba protest, the police detained a local candidate for the National Legislative Assembly, Walter Flores, accusing him of attacking members of the State security forces. Flores denied the charges and his release was ordered by a judge, who found no evidence against him. The candidate for the Bolivia Dice “No” (Bolivia Said “No”) alliance has stated that he will take legal action against the police for his detention and false charges.

In a separate development, on 25th and 26th August 2019, bus drivers blocked roads in the city of La Paz to protest against the launch of a new bus route between Achumani-San Pedro. According to news reports, some of the demonstrators threw stones at the buses, despite the fact that there were people inside. As a result, fifty people were injured and twenty-five buses damaged. Bolivia’s Communications Minister, Manuel Canelas, condemned the attackers on Twitter, stating that the right to protest cannot be confused with violence. Bus drivers meanwhile argued that they were discriminated against and insulted by the local population. Four people were detained and indicted for damaging public property in the episode. Bus driver unions continued to pressure the municipal government, and La Paz mayor Luis Revilla agreed to a dialogue with the unions.

Expression

On 26th July 2019, journalist Marianela Montenegro disclosed that she had received threats for reporting on alleged links between the police, drug trafficking and corruption. She asked for protection for herself and her family. According to Montenegro, since 2017 she has received threats from people linked to the former director of Bolivia’s Special Force against Crime, Gonzalo Medina, whom she denounced.

On 1st August 2019, coca leaf growers who support the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party verbally assaulted and intimidated journalist Marco Chuquimia, from the newspaper El Deber. The reporter was covering a conflict between different sectors of the coca leaf growers association Asociación de Productores de Coca (ADEPCOCA) in La Paz. Bolivia’s Asociación Nacional de Prensa (National Press Association - ANP) demanded respect for journalistic work and asked the police to provide effective protection to journalists carrying out their work.