• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Bolivia 2011

June 30, 2011

Head of state and government: Evo Morales Ayma
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
Population: 10 million
Life expectancy: 66.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 65/56 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 90.7 per cent

Institutional developments in the justice system gave rise to serious concerns. Key trials for past human rights violations and investigations into allegations of violence by the security forces and by private individuals progressed slowly.


Lack of consultation and agreement on political reforms increased political tensions. Some Indigenous groups and trades unions initiated protests. In May, the Bolivian Trades Union Confederation (Central Obrera Boliviana) called a strike over pay and pension reforms. In June, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia) began a protest march in the town of Trinidad, Beni department, against elements of the proposed autonomy law and the lack of progress in land allocation. A negotiated resolution was reached in July. Tensions between the local and national authorities arose in Potosí department in July and August following a 19-day strike by campesino (peasant farmer) organizations, the local civic committee and some local government authorities over land and environmental and infrastructure issues. In December, President Evo Morales rescinded plans to end government subsidies on petrol and diesel after a sharp increase in prices provoked mass protests.

High-ranking government officials publicly questioned the legitimacy of NGOs and social movements expressing dissent to government policies and actions.

In February Bolivia’s human rights record was assessed under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. A number of states raised concerns around the independence of the judiciary, impunity and access to justice, the rights of women, and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

Ambitious deadlines for passing new legislation and a lack of procedural transparency hampered meaningful consultation over the far-reaching reforms.

A new Human Rights Ombudsman took office in May, amid concerns that objective criteria had not been taken into consideration in the first round of selection.

A law passed in February empowered the President to designate by decree interim judges to vacant posts in the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. These temporary mandates were extended following delays in the selection and election of new judges. The tenure of judges already sitting in these Courts, appointed by previous administrations, was due to end once this process was completed.

Interim judges in the Constitutional Court were mandated to deal exclusively with the backlog of cases lodged prior to February 2009. As a result, the Court could not exercise constitutional oversight of new legislation. There were a number of concerns about the compatibility of new legislation with international human rights standards. These included the retroactive effect of the anti-corruption law, heavy criminal penalties established in the anti-racism law and, in the judiciary law, the “litigant’s defence” role which exercises a supervisory function while depending on the executive.

Police and security forces

There were continuing concerns over human rights violations during security operations and in police and military establishments.

  • Two people died from gunshot wounds and at least 30 people were injured when police attempted to disperse protesters who had mounted a roadblock in Caranavi province. The protesters were concerned about indications that the government might renege on an electoral promise to build a citrus-processing plant there. A report by the Human Rights Ombudsman, later challenged by the government, criticized the use of disproportionate and excessive force, arbitrary arrests, as well as inhumane and degrading treatment during detention. Investigations into the case were continuing at the end of the year.
  • In September, a video came to light showing an army conscript in Challapata, Oruro department, being submerged repeatedly in water in 2009 by people in military uniform. The video re-awakened concerns about the prevalence of violence within the military. Four military officers were under ex officio investigation at the end of the year.

Unlawful killings

A number of cases of “lynching” came to light during the year.

  • Four police officers were killed between 23 May and 1 June after being held captive by private individuals in Saca Saca, near Uncía, Oruro department. One officer was believed to have been tortured for several days before being killed. Indigenous authorities in the community accused the police of killing a taxi driver and extortion, and rejected the presence of prosecutors investigating the case. Six suspects were under investigation at the end of the year.


There were continued delays in bringing to justice those responsible for human rights violations committed under past military regimes and since the return to democratic rule, and in providing reparation to victims.

  • In August, the Supreme Court sentenced Oscar Menacho Vaca and Justo Sarmiento Alanez, two former political officials in the military government of Hugo Banzer (1971-1978), to 20 years’ imprisonment, and a third agent to 15 years, for their role in the enforced disappearances of José Carlos Trujillo Oroza and José Luis Ibsen Peña in 1972 and 1973.
  • In September, the Inter-American Court ruled that Bolivia had failed in its responsibility to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the enforced disappearances of activist José Luis Ibsen Peña and his son Rainer Ibsen Cárdenas between 1971 and 1973.
  • Prosecutors attempting to access military archives as part of their investigations into enforced disappearances in 1980-1981 faced continuing obstacles, despite two Supreme Court orders to declassify the archives in April.
  • Trial proceedings relating to the “Black October” events of 2003, in which at least 67 people were killed and more than 400 injured in clashes between the security forces and demonstrators, were subject to delays. Limited resources hindered the ability of witnesses and victims to attend court.
  • There were continued delays in the trial connected to the Pando massacre in 2008. The former departmental prefect accused of intellectual authorship of the human rights violations committed remained under preventive detention at the end of the year.

According to NGOs, only 218 of the 6,000 victims of human rights violations who had applied for reparations under a 2004 law had been granted benefits.

NGOs reported that 82 per cent of cases of sexual violence that reached the courts in the rural municipality of Quillacollo, Cochabamba department, between 2008 and mid-2010 had either been abandoned or remained without final sentence.

Maternal mortality

Figures available as part of the 2008 national Demographic and Health Survey demonstrated an increase in the country’s maternal mortality ratio, from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2003 to 310 in 2008. The methodological basis for the figures was questioned, but authoritative sources suggested that the same methodology had been used in arriving at both sets of statistics.