The 2009 Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia protects the rights to life and to freedom from inhumane treatment. Article 15(1) provides that:
Every person has the right to life and physical, psychological and sexual integrity. No one shall be tortured, nor suffer cruel, inhuman, degrading or humiliating treatment.
Article 21(4) provides that Bolivians have the rights to "freedom of assembly and association, publicly and privately, for legal purposes".
According to Article 251(1) of the Constitution:
The Bolivian Police, as a public force, has the specific mission to defend the society and conserve public order, and to assure compliance with the law in the entire territory of Bolivia. It shall carry out the police function in a comprehensive, indivisible manner and under a single command, pursuant to the Organic Law of the Bolivian Police and the other laws of the State.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1948 Charter of the Organization of American States||State Party|
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||Yes|
Police Use of Force
The primary law enforcement agency in Bolivia is the National Police Corps (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional). Their actions are regulated under the 1995 Organic Law governing the National Police (Act No. 734/1995).
The use of firearms is governed by the following provisions. Article 56 provides that police use of firearms must comply with the law and only be used after all other available means have been exhausted and warnings provided. Article 58 stipulates that the improper use of firearms will lead to an administrative process and potentially criminal proceedings.
These provisions do not meet international legal requirements.
There is no independent civlian police oversight body, although the Defender of the People of Bolivia (Defensor del pueblo), an institution equivalent to an ombudsman, can investigate allegations of excessive police use of force.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Bolivia, the Human Rights Committee did not address the use of force by the police. In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Bolivia, the Committee against Torture called on Bolivia to
establish a special independent complaints mechanism for receiving reports of torture and ill-treatment [in custodial settings] so that such reports can be dealt with swiftly and impartially. It should also examine the internal complaints system available to persons deprived of their liberty in order to determine how effective it is.
In October 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) Case 12.709, Juan Carlos Flores Bedregal, regarding Bolivia. The case relates to the international responsibility of Bolivia for the forced disappearance of Juan Carlos Flores Bedregal, leader of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Revolutionary Workers’ Party) and national representative in the Legislature, and the impunity in which these facts remain. His disappearance began in the context of the July 1980 coup d'état by military forces.
In April 2018, the IACHR accepted a case concerning the April 2009 killing of two Hungarians (one of Bolivian birth) and an Irishman, whom the government alleged were mercenaries involved in a separatist plot. Police shot them dead after storming their hotel rooms in Santa Cruz. Human Rights Watch reports that President Morales tweeted that admitting the case meant that the commission “was a defender of terrorism and separatism.”
In March 2018, the IACHR expressed its concern over the result of the police operation carried out at the Santa Cruz Rehabilitation Center ("Palmasola Prison"), which resulted in the loss of lives of at least seven inmates and in approximately twenty wounded people, among them, seven policemen. The Inter-American Commission urged Bolivia to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events occurred, as well as to identify and punish the perpetrators. According to public information, on 14 March 2018 around 2,300 policemen carried out an operation without prior notice in the Penitentiary Center of "Palmasola", in the department of Santa Cruz. According to the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Police, the purpose of the operation was to restore the order and control in the prison, since criminal organizations were operating inside. The response of the inmates to the operation was allegedly violent, with the use of firearms and fuel jugs to prevent the police advance.
In September 2017, the IACHR welcomed the establishment of a Truth Commission by the Bolivian government on 21 August 2017. The Truth Commission is investigating serious human rights violations that took place between 1964 and 1982. The Truth Commission was established by Law 879 of 23 December 2016 “to solve the murders, forced disappearances, tortures, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence, considered grave human rights violations, which were committed in Bolivia for political and ideological motives from November 4, 1964, to October 10, 1982", a period during which a series of military governments committed grave human rights violations.
Ibsen Cárdenas and Ibsen Peña v. Bolivia (2010)
This case concerned the forced disappearances of Rainer Ibsen Cárdenas and José Luis Ibsen Peña, in October 1971 and February 1973, respectively, under the then military dictatorship. The Court held that Bolivia had failed to provide adequate reparation to the families and to identify the whereabouts of one of the victims. The remains of Mr. Ibsen Cárdenas were found, identified, and delivered to his family in 2008. Mr. Ibsen Peña's remains, on the other hand, have yet to be recovered. The Court found that Bolivia had violated the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, including the right to life.