Human Rights Committee
Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Plurinational State of Bolivia*
1.The Committee considered the fourth periodic report of the Plurinational State of Bolivia at its 3849th, 3851st and 3853rd meetings, held in hybrid format from 8 to 10 March 2022. At its 3869th meeting, held on 22 March 2022, it adopted the present concluding observations.
2.The Committee welcomes the submission of the fourth periodic report of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and the information presented therein. It expresses appreciation for the opportunity to renew its open and constructive dialogue with the State party’s high-level delegation. The Committee is grateful to the State party for the information provided on the measures taken during the reporting period to implement the provisions of the Covenant. The Committee is also grateful to the State party for its written replies to the list of issues, which were supplemented by the oral responses provided by the delegation, and for the additional information provided to it in writing.
3.The Committee welcomes the following legislative and institutional measures taken by the State party during the reporting period in the area of civil and political rights:
(a)The Standardized Protocol for the Specialist Care of Victims of Human Trafficking and Smuggling, adopted via Decision No. FGE/JLP/DAJ/2017/2020 of 27 November 2020;
(b)Supreme Decree No. 3774 of 16 January 2019 on the establishment of the “Ana María Romero” Plurinational Service for Women and for Dismantling the Patriarchy;
(c)Act No. 879 of 23 December 2016 on the Truth Commission;
(d)Act No. 870 of 13 December 2016 on the Ombudsman;
(e)Act No. 848 of 27 October 2016 establishing the Decade for Afro-Bolivian People;
(f)Act No. 807 of 21 May 2016 on Gender Identity;
(g)Act No. 586 of 30 October 2014 on Streamlining and Reducing the Workload in the Criminal Justice System;
(h)Act No. 548 of 17 July 2014 on the Children and Adolescents Code;
(i)Act No. 464 of 19 December 2013 on the Plurinational Victim Assistance Service;
(j)Act No. 463 of 19 December 2013 on the Plurinational Public Defender Service.
C.Principal matters of concern and recommendations
Views under the Optional Protocol
4.The Committee regrets that the State party has not yet set up a specific procedure for the implementation of the Views adopted under the Optional Protocol. In addition, it notes with concern that its Views with respect to three cases in which it found a violation of the Covenant – communications No. 176/1984 (Peñarietta et al.), No. 2628/2015 (Delgado Burgoa) and No. 2629/2015 (Maldonado Iporre) – have yet to be fully implemented, despite the amount of time that has elapsed since their adoption. While it welcomes the fact that the Constitutional Court has “recognized the binding nature of the decisions and guidance of the human rights treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee”, the Committee notes the statement by the delegation of the State party during the dialogue regarding the difficulties encountered in implementing the Views (art. 2).
5. The Committee reiterates its recommendation that the State party establish a mechanism for the implementation of the Committee ’ s Views. It also recommends that the State party take the necessary measures to promptly and fully comply with the Committee ’ s Views concerning the three cases mentioned above.
Human rights violations committed between 1964 and 1982
6.The Committee welcomes the establishment of the Truth Commission in 2016 and its final report on the serious human rights violations committed between 1964 and 1982. Although it notes with interest the measures taken to investigate cases of enforced disappearance, the Committee regrets that it was not provided with sufficient information on the number of investigations into cases of enforced disappearance and other human rights violations that are under way or the penalties imposed on the perpetrators. It is concerned that, despite the time that has elapsed, 147 of the 1,714 victims recognized in Supreme Decree No. 1211 of 2012 have not received compensation of any kind and that the remainder of the victims have received only 20 per cent of the award. In this regard, the Committee notes that the State party is formulating legal regulations to resolve the issue of the amounts owed and welcomes the establishment of three standing inter-agency committees tasked with, inter alia, designing public policies and laws that guarantee the right to comprehensive reparation for all victims of human rights violations, including those committed between 1964 and 1982 (arts. 2 and 6–7).
7. The State party should step up its efforts to realize the rights to truth, justice and comprehensive reparation for victims of the serious human rights violations committed between 1964 and 1982. In particular, it should ensure that the following actions are taken as soon as possible:
(a) Disseminate the final report of the Truth Commission more widely and fully implement all the recommendations contained therein;
(b) Advance the investigations into all allegations of human rights violations committed between 1964 and 1982, bring the perpetrators to justice and impose appropriate penalties;
(c) Realize the right to comprehensive reparation for all victims, including those not on the list contained in Supreme Decree No. 1211, and ensure that the reparation encompasses all the measures required in order to meet the relevant international standards.
Equality between men and women
8.The Committee welcomes the measures taken in the area of gender equality and the results achieved by the legislative branch. However, it is concerned that women remain underrepresented in decision-making positions at all levels of the executive and judicial branches and regrets that it has not received information on the steps taken to increase their representation in decision-making bodies in the private sector. It is also concerned about the many cases of political harassment and violence against women that were recorded during the reporting period and the fact that there has been only one conviction in those cases (arts. 2– 3 and 25–26).
9. The State party should:
(a) Intensify its efforts to ensure effective equality between men and women in all spheres and throughout the country. In particular, it should take tangible steps to increase the representation of women, including indigenous women and women of African descent, in decision-making positions at all levels of the executive and judicial branches and in the private sector;
(b) Redouble its efforts to eliminate stereotypes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society;
(c) Speed up the process of evaluating the implementation of the Multisectoral Plan to Eliminate Patriarchalism and Promote Women ’ s Right to Practice the Right Way of Living 2017–2020 and design a new plan as soon as possible while ensuring that sufficient resources are allocated to its implementation;
(d) Step up efforts to fully implement the Act on Political Harassment and Violence against Women; to prevent cases of political harassment and violence; and to ensure that victims countrywide are provided with prompt and appropriate assistance and protection; that complaints are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated; that those responsible are prosecuted and appropriately punished; and that victims receive comprehensive reparation.
10.The Committee recognizes the State party’s efforts to combat discrimination. However, it is concerned by reports that inadequate resources are allocated to the implementation of Act No. 45 on the Elimination of Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and that there have been few convictions under the Act. The Committee is also concerned by allegations that discrimination, especially racial discrimination, including acts of violence, took place during the post-election crisis of 2019. It is further concerned about the fact that some of the cases of racial violence committed in Pando and Sucre in 2008 remain pending (arts. 2–3, 6–7, 17 and 25–26).
11. The State party should:
(a) Redouble its efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate all forms of discrimination by, inter alia, allocating sufficient resources for the full implementation of the anti-discrimination legal framework and stepping up public education and awareness-raising campaigns and training for public servants in order to promote tolerance and respect for diversity;
(b) Ensure that complaints lodged under Act No. 45 and complaints of discrimination filed with the administrative authorities are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions;
(c) Take the necessary measures to accelerate the ongoing proceedings relating to the acts of racial violence committed in Pando and Sucre in 2008 and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the seriousness of their actions;
(d) Ensure that all victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(e) Adopt the new multisectoral plan to eliminate racism and all forms of discrimination for 2021–2025 as soon as possible.
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity
12.The Committee is concerned by reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons continue to be the object of discrimination and violence, even murder. While it welcomes the adoption of Act No. 807 on Gender Identity, the Committee notes with concern that, in Plurinational Constitutional Decision No. 0076/17 and Constitutional Judgment No. 0028/17, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the part of article 11 (II) of the Act that reads “individuals [who have changed their name, sex and image] may exercise all their fundamental political, labour, civil, economic and social rights”. The Committee is also concerned about the reported barriers faced by trans men in registering the birth of their children. It notes with interest that in 2020 and 2021, through the remedy of amparo, two same-sex couples were granted leave to register their cohabitation or de facto union. However, it notes that such matters remain on the docket of the Constitutional Court and regrets that other same-sex couples have been denied registration (arts. 2, 6–7, 17, 24 and 26).
13. The State party should redouble its efforts to combat stereotypes and prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and should:
(a) Ensure that offences motivated by the victim ’ s sexual orientation or gender identity are investigated promptly, that those responsible are brought to justice and appropriately punished and that the victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(b) Adopt as soon as possible the necessary measures to ensure that trans persons can fully exercise all their rights under the Covenant;
(c) Take the necessary steps to ensure that all children born in the State party, irrespective of the gender identity of their parents, are registered immediately after their birth and are issued with an official birth certificate;
(d) Adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that same-sex couples can enjoy the rights enshrined in the Covenant.
Violence against women
14.The Committee notes the measures taken by the State party to prevent and combat violence against women. It is nonetheless concerned by reports that violence against women and girls, including femicide and sexual violence, remains widespread in the country. Although it notes the progress, described during the dialogue, in investigating the 113 femicides committed since November 2020, the Committee is concerned at the low conviction rate in cases of violence against women. It is also concerned that the definition of the offence of rape is not in line with international standards and that, according to the available information, the definition of the offence of statutory rape in effect allows for impunity in cases of rape or sexual abuse of a minor. In addition, the Committee is concerned by reports that the measures taken to combat violence against women do not encompass trans women, although it welcomes the fact that, according to the information provided by the State party, the amendments to Comprehensive Act No. 348 on Guaranteeing a Violence-Free Life for Women will extend the scope of protection to transgender and transsexual women (arts. 2–3, 6–7, 14, 24 and 26).
15. The State party should intensify its efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. In particular, it should take the necessary measures to:
(a) Allocate the necessary financial, technical and human resources to the prevention of such violence, the protection of women, the punishment of perpetrators and the provision of reparation to victims;
(b) Ensure that all measures taken to combat violence against women also protect trans women;
(c) Facilitate and encourage the filing of complaints by victims and ensure that all acts of violence against women and girls are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, that steps are taken during investigations to avoid the revictimization of victims, that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished and that victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(d) Amend as soon as possible the definitions of rape (Criminal Code, art. 308) and statutory rape (Criminal Code, art. 309) to bring them into line with the relevant international standards;
(e) Ensure that victims countrywide are provided with prompt and appropriate assistance and protection.
Voluntary termination of pregnancy and reproductive rights
16.The Committee welcomes Judgment No. 0206/2014 of 5 February 2014 of the Constitutional Court, in which the Court declared unconstitutional the requirement to obtain prior judicial authorization in order to undergo a legal abortion when the pregnancy results from rape, incest or statutory rape or when there is a risk to the life or health of the mother. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned at reports of the barriers women face in practice when trying to obtain a legal abortion, including conscientious objection on the part of medical staff and breaches of doctor-patient confidentiality. It is also concerned by allegations that some 200 women are being prosecuted for the offence of abortion after being reported by health-care professionals. In this context, the Committee is concerned by reports that the barriers women face in accessing legal abortions and the criminalization of abortion other than in the aforementioned situations lead women to seek out clandestine abortion services that endanger their lives and health. It is also concerned that teenage pregnancy rates remain high despite the preventive measures taken by the State party (arts. 2–3, 6–7, 17 and 24).
17. The State party should:
(a) Redouble its efforts to ensure effective and timely access to legal abortions for women and girls and review the regulatory framework in order to ensure that it does not lead women to resort to clandestine abortions that endanger their lives and health;
(b) Ensure that conscientious objection does not, in practice, constitute a barrier to safe and timely legal abortions and that doctor-patient confidentiality is respected;
(c) Step up its efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies, especially among adolescent girls, and to ensure full access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health services countrywide, particularly in rural areas;
(d) Redouble its efforts to raise awareness of and provide education on sexual and reproductive rights.
Prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
18.The Committee is concerned that the definition of the offence of torture has not yet been brought into line with international standards, although it notes that the State party is working on a bill to that end. It is also concerned by reports that, between 2013 and August 2021, the Service for the Prevention of Torture registered over 3,000 cases of torture and ill-treatment, most of which involved acts committed by police officers in prisons. In this regard, the Committee notes that, according to the information provided by the State party, internal investigations have been initiated into 70 police officers, 21 of whom have been referred to the Public Prosecution Service. However, it regrets that it has not received specific information on all the criminal investigations carried out and their outcomes. While it recognizes the measures taken to prevent lynchings, the Committee is concerned that 28 cases were nonetheless recorded between 2018 and August 2021 (arts. 7, 9 and 14).
19. The State party should:
(a) Adopt as soon as possible a definition of the offence of torture that meets international standards and establish a penalty for that offence that reflects its extreme seriousness;
(b) Redouble its efforts to effectively prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment, for instance by strengthening the provision of human rights training for public servants and other staff who interact with persons deprived of their liberty; continue to facilitate the safe reporting of acts of torture and ill-treatment, especially in places of deprivation of liberty; and ensure that all allegations of torture or ill-treatment are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, that the perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished and that the victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(c) Take steps to prevent lynchings, including through wider awareness-raising and addressing the causes, and impose appropriate punishment in cases of lynching and attempted lynching.
Trafficking in persons and forced labour
20.The Committee welcomes the measures taken by the State party to prevent and combat trafficking in persons and forced labour. However, it is concerned by reports that trafficking in persons continues and that the number of convictions for trafficking and related offences is very low despite the high number of complaints. It regrets that it did not receive information on the number of complaints of forced or bonded labour that ended in conviction (arts. 8 and 24).
21. The State party should:
(a) Intensify its efforts to prevent, combat and punish trafficking in persons and forced or bonded labour;
(b) Ensure that cases of trafficking in persons and forced or bonded labour are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, that those responsible are appropriately punished and that victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(c) Continue and strengthen prevention and awareness-raising campaigns on the negative effects of trafficking in persons, as well as training, specialization and awareness-raising measures aimed at public servants and other persons responsible for investigating these offences, identifying victims and providing them with protection and assistance, especially at border posts;
(d) Ensure that sufficient financial, technical and human resources are allocated to all institutions responsible for preventing, combating and punishing trafficking in persons and forced labour and for providing victims with protection and assistance;
(e) Redouble its efforts to identify victims of trafficking in persons and to provide them with appropriate protection and assistance, including by ensuring that the geographical coverage of shelters that provide comprehensive services is sufficient, especially in border areas; and provide support to families who are at risk of becoming involved in forced or bonded labour;
(f) Accelerate the adoption of the new plurinational policy on combating human trafficking and smuggling and the new multisectoral plan to combat human trafficking and smuggling.
Use of force in the context of protests
22.The Committee is concerned by reports of human rights violations committed during the 2019 post-election crisis, including cases of excessive and disproportionate use of force, violations of the right to life and cases of violence with a strong racist component. While it notes the information provided by the State party regarding the investigations that are under way, it notes with concern that, according to the information available, limited progress has been made in these investigations and there have been no convictions to date. The Committee wishes to draw the State party’s attention to its general comment No. 37 (2020) on the right of peaceful assembly (article 21) (arts. 2, 6–7, 14, 19 and 21).
23. The State party should ensure that all human rights violations committed during protests, including the protests held in the context of the 2019 post-election crisis, are investigated promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially, that the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice and those found guilty are appropriately punished, and that the victims receive comprehensive reparation. Furthermore, the State party should continue to take measures, including the intensification of training, to effectively prevent and eliminate the excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel, especially in the context of protests, and should, in the light of the single additional provision of Act No. 1341 of 29 October 2020, promptly review the regulations governing the use of lethal force and weapons by the police and armed forces with a view to bringing them into line with the Constitution and the relevant international standards.
Persons deprived of their liberty
24.The Committee notes the measures taken to reduce prison overcrowding and improve conditions of detention. Notwithstanding the progress in reducing overcrowding referred to during the dialogue, it is concerning that overcrowding remains at 148 per cent, according to the information provided by the State party, and that approximately 65 per cent of persons deprived of their liberty are in pretrial detention. The Committee is also concerned by reports that the budget allocated to the prison authorities is insufficient, that persons in pretrial detention are not separated from convicted offenders and that there are cases of inmate self-governance (arts. 6–7, 9–10 and 14).
25. The State party should increase its efforts to:
(a) Effectively reduce overcrowding and the high rate of pretrial detention and prioritize the use of alternatives to deprivation of liberty;
(b) Improve conditions of detention in keeping with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and ensure respect for the dignity of persons deprived of their liberty in line with article 10 of the Covenant by allocating sufficient financial and human resources;
(c) Ensure that persons in pretrial detention are effectively separated from convicted offenders;
(d) Exercise effective control over all prisons to prevent self-governance by inmates and ensure that all cases of prison violence and extortion are investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and duly punished.
Administration of justice
26.The Committee welcomes the fact that the State party is working to reform the justice system. Nevertheless, it remains concerned at the state of the justice system, in particular at reports that, during the reporting period, despite the measures taken, the geographical coverage of justice services remained inadequate and cases of political interference and corruption continued to occur among the judiciary and the Public Prosecution Service, undermining their independence. The Committee is also concerned about the high proportion of judges and prosecutors who are appointed on a temporary basis and lack security of tenure, the fact that the budget for the administration of justice is very limited and has not increased in recent years, and the insufficient number and geographical coverage of public defenders, even though there are other bodies that provide free legal defence services (arts. 2 and 14).
27. The State party should:
(a) Redouble its efforts to secure and safeguard the full autonomy, independence and impartiality of judges and prosecutors and ensure that they can perform their duties free from pressure and interference of any kind. In this regard, the State party should accelerate the reform of the justice system while ensuring that the process is fully in line with its obligations under the Covenant and effectively involves all relevant actors, including civil society;
(b) Take prompt and impactful measures to prevent, combat and appropriately punish acts of corruption, especially those involving members of the judiciary and police officers;
(c) Take the necessary steps as soon as possible to reduce the high proportion of judges and prosecutors who are appointed on a temporary basis and ensure that the selection, assessment, disciplinary and removal processes are carried out transparently by an independent body in accordance with the law and on the basis of public and objective criteria of suitability, merit and professional experience;
(d) Ensure that the justice system operates throughout the country, including in rural areas, and that it is allocated sufficient financial, technical and human resources;
(e) Ensure that the Plurinational Public Defence Service has sufficient financial, technical and human resources to carry out its work in a timely and appropriate manner throughout the country.
Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees
28.The Committee notes the information provided about the current legislation on refugees and non-refoulement and about the ongoing training for migration and border officials. However, it is concerned by allegations that: (a) there have been cases where persons who wished to apply for asylum were turned back at the borders or at airports; (b) in practice, people arriving at the borders or at airports are not informed about the refugee determination procedure or how to file for asylum with the National Commission for Refugees; and (c) the National Commission for Refugees receives applications for asylum only at its central office in La Paz (arts. 2, 7 and 12–14).
29. The State party should redouble its efforts to:
(a) Accelerate refugee determination procedures;
(b) Ensure that all requests for international protection made anywhere in the country, including at the borders and at airports, are effectively received, registered and transmitted promptly to the processing authorities;
(c) Continue and increase the provision of training to migration and border officials in identifying persons in need of international protection and informing them of asylum procedures;
(d) Ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected in practice.
Freedom of expression and association
30.The Committee is concerned by allegations that cases of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists occurred during the reporting period, including the arbitrary detention of some journalists who were covering the protests between 2019 and 2021. It is also concerned that defamation, slander and insult are considered criminal offences and that this constitutes a threat to the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information. While it notes that Supreme Decree No. 1597 of 2013 has been repealed, the Committee regrets that Act No. 351 has not been amended in response to its previous concluding observations and that the legal status of organizations can therefore still be revoked for, inter alia, involvement in activities other than those referred to in their statutes (arts. 9, 19 and 22).
31. The State party should take the necessary measures to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly by everyone, taking into account the Committee ’ s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression. In particular, the Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Redouble its efforts to prevent harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists and guarantee their timely and effective protection;
(b) Ensure that all allegations of harassment and intimidation are investigated promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially, that the perpetrators are brought to justice and appropriately punished and that the victims receive comprehensive reparation;
(c) Consider the possibility of decriminalizing defamation, slander and insult and, in any event, restrict the application of criminal law to only the most serious cases, bearing in mind that a prison sentence is never an appropriate penalty in such cases;
(d) Amend Act No. 351 to remove any provision that may disproportionately restrict the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate freely, independently and effectively with the broad participation of civil society.
Rights of indigenous peoples
32.The Committee notes with concern that no framework law has been adopted to guarantee the conduct of free, prior and informed consultations to obtain the consent of indigenous and aboriginal campesino nations and peoples in relation to decisions about projects that may affect their way of life and/or culture. Although it notes the State party’s efforts to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples, the Committee is concerned at reports of situations where the principle of free, prior and informed consultations was not fully upheld or licences were issued for mining activities that might generate mercury pollution in protected areas and indigenous territories. It is further concerned by reports that no regulatory instrument has been adopted for Act No. 450 on the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous and Aboriginal Nations and Peoples and that this jeopardizes its implementation (arts. 2, 14 and 27).
33. The State party should:
(a) Adopt as soon as possible a framework law on the conduct of consultations with indigenous and aboriginal campesino nations and peoples with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent before the adoption and application of any measure that may have an impact on their way of life and/or culture; ensure that the law is fully in line with the Covenant and other international standards; and guarantee the active participation of indigenous and aboriginal campesino nations and peoples in the drafting of the law;
(b) Ensure that good faith consultations with indigenous and aboriginal campesino nations and peoples are conducted with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent before the adoption and application of any measure that may have an impact on their way of life and/or culture;
(c) Redouble its efforts to ensure that no measure that might harm protected areas or indigenous territories is taken and to protect highly vulnerable indigenous peoples, including through the prompt adoption of regulations for the implementation of Act No. 450 of 2013.
D.Dissemination and follow-up
34. The State party should widely disseminate the Covenant and the two Optional Protocols, its fourth periodic report and the present concluding observations with a view to raising awareness of the rights enshrined in the Covenant among the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society and non-governmental organizations operating in the country, and the general public, including members of minorities and indigenous peoples.
35. In accordance with rule 75 (1) of the Committee ’ s rules of procedure, the State party is requested to provide, by 25 March 2025, information on the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee in paragraphs 15 (violence against women), 21 (trafficking in persons and forced labour) and 27 (administration of justice) above.
36. In line with the Committee ’ s predictable review cycle, the State party will receive in 2028 the Committee ’ s list of issues prior to submission of the report and will be expected to submit within one year its replies to the list of issues, which will constitute its fifth periodic report. The Committee also requests the State party, in preparing the report, to broadly consult civil society and non-governmental organizations operating in the country. In accordance with General Assembly resolution 68/268, the word limit for the report is 21,200 words. The next constructive dialogue with the State party will take place in 2030 in Geneva.