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.
Article 13.18 of Act No. 101 of 4 April 2011, which establishes the disciplinary regime for the Bolivian police, stipulates that it is a serious offence for the police to assault persons who have been arrested, apprehended, or detained in police cells.
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 February 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Blas Valencia Campos and others before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case concerns the illegal search of the victims' homes and acts of excessive violence by State agents--including torture, sexual violence and incommunicado detention--during their arrest and subsequent detention. In the early morning of 18 December 2001, numerous heavily armed State agents violently raided four properties in order to arrest persons suspected of involvement in the robbery of a van of a private company in which two policemen were killed. During the raid, a group of 22 men and women were severely beaten, 17 were taken to the Judicial Technical Police where they suffered similar humiliations while being interrogated and were presented to the press as responsible for the robbery, before being prosecuted or convicted.
In its Merits Report, the Commission concluded that both the arrests and the searches were illegal. The Commission considered it sufficiently proven that during the raids, heavily armed State agents exercised a high degree of physical and psychological violence against the people who were in the buildings, including children. The IACHR also considered that the State did not argue or demonstrate that the force used at the time of the raid was rational or necessary, beyond generic reference to the alleged dangerousness of the detainees. The Commission established that one of the detainees died while being held in the Chonchocoro prison, after having been severely beaten and abused by State agents during her arrest. The Commission observed that there was no evidence that the State had provided medical attention or a satisfactory or convincing explanation of what had happened, and therefore concluded that the State was also responsible for the violation of the right to life.
In 2019, the IACHR expressed its opinion on joint operations between the National Police Force and the Armed Forces. "The aim of these operations was to maintain and re-establish public order, but they entailed an excessive use of force. A related matter is the issuing of Supreme Decree No. 4.078, which seeks to absolve members of the Armed Forces from criminal responsibility after taking part in operations to restore public order." During its visit to the country, the IACHR delegation "received repeated reports on the excessive use of force by the Police Force and Armed Forces as they attempted to contain the social protests that have been taking place throughout Bolivia. According to these reports, in the course of the police repression of these protests and marches, several people have allegedly been wounded after being beaten or shot at or as a result of the indiscriminate use of tear gas or blunt objects."
In October 2018, the IACHR presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights 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.