The State of Human Rights in Bolivia: The UN View

This is an expanded and hyperlinked version of an article I contributed to Bolivia Information Forum’s News Briefing service. Please support BIF’s appeal for funds to continue its valuable work.

Bolivia’s record on human rights came up for review by the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee* during its October session. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bolivia submits a report on its performance every five years. The Committee looked at that report and submissions from numerous human rights organizations in drafting a series of recommendations (Concluding Observations [es] | all documents from the process). In the UN committee’s view, the state of political freedom and social equality in the country is an uneasy balance between ambitious new legislative protections and inadequate practical implementation of national and international norms.

The Bolivian government has passed new laws to guarantee rights and combat discrimination, including norms against racism and other forms of discrimination (2010), violence against women (2013), and gendered political harassment (2012). While some regional commissions on racism are operating, the regulations to protect women from violence are still pending. A law on consultation with indigenous communities is also pending. The Committee criticized Bolivia for failing to respect the right to free, prior, and informed consent on projects and laws that affect indigenous peoples and their territories.

The Committee’s strongest criticisms refer to Bolivia’s overwhelmed criminal justice system. Investigations and prosecutions are slow, while prisons are overcrowded to 230% of their capacity. Four out of five people in Bolivia’s jails are awaiting trial, and the Committee suggested that alternatives like house arrest and location monitors could see many of them released. It said that those who remain should have the right to be housed separately from convicted criminals. A government amnesty plan is underway, but progress remains slow. Delays in prosecution are also creating a situation of impunity for those responsible for racist attacks perpetrated in 2008, the murder of two women council members in 2012, and police repression at Chaparina and Mallku Khota, among others. The Committee also urged further action to combat lynchings, as well as corporal punishment carried out in the family and traditional spheres of the justice system.

The Bolivian armed forces and police were singled out in a number of observations.  A series of revelations of brutal treatment of conscripts and of beatings of prisoners have generated controversy, but there have been few successful prosecutions.  The Committee also urged opening military records from the dictatorship era (between the mid 1960s and early 1980s), and the creation of an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors.

Finally, the UN Committee urged expanded protection of rights on several fronts.  It argues that the current obligation for women seeking a legal abortion (in cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity) to get a judge’s backing contributes to maternal mortality and should be eliminated. It also urged new action to free hundreds of Guaraní families still trapped in servitude, and to criminalize violence against sexual minorities and transgender people.

* This Human Rights Committee is a body established by article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Delayed blogging: Settling in

[June 12] It snowed yesterday in El Alto. Not what I expected when I took the microbus (read: minivan with signs) up to the University there. Verdict: winter is real.

The event that the snow and bad directions made me miss was held again down here in La Paz around dinner time… A professor and a Vice-Minister of Justice talking about redefining policies of criminalization in a plurinational society. The first talk was very provocative–lots about how criminal law (and incarceration) are a last resort for resolving conflict, and we need to think first about the mechanisms creating for mediating conflict. Also, a question I’ve never heard asked before in such a forum: how do we solve the problem of those in prison always, under any type of government, consisting almost entirely of the poor.

There’s a lot of through-the-looking-glass style experiences of ideas you’d never expect to come out of an official’s mouth.

And then there’s the altitude (which has slowed me down, but hasn’t thrown me for a loop yet), the sudden lack of daylight hours, and being in a very different city. But I’m well, and housed for the next week or so here in La Paz (two floors above the crazily beautiful but excessively spacious place I looked at a couple days ago).

FBI Informants Tracking Terror, or Manufacturing Terror?

Inside the Green Scare

Elle Magazine has a profile piece of “Anna”, a young woman who volunteered to be an informant for the FBI on the anarchist scene. As it turns out, she was lurking at at least a couple of gatherings I’ve been to, the late 2003 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami, and the 2004 RNC protests. The presence of a an infiltrator, pretending sympathy and often acting as a street medic, honestly, makes my skin crawl. It is all the worse for those she developed seemingly long-term relationships with, and worst of all for Eric McDavid, now sentenced to some 20 years in prison for something he never actually did, but was co-planning with FBI informant/pseudo-anarchist Anna.

And of course, it only strengthens the argument for those many times when the most compelling direct action strategy relies on bringing people in, and generating the numbers to do what a few people with the option of surprise can’t.

Anyway, you can now meet the informer, in Elle’s profile article, posted on Indybay for what seem to be solid fair use reasons. It would be unfair to not let people on Eric’s side respond, as one does anonymously here. See also Friends and Family of Eric McDavid.

p.s. More from CrimethInc.

Update: This is still one of the most visited articles on my blog. You can read a broader context on conspiracy charges as a tool of repression, and how to respond, in “The Age of Conspiracy Charges” (I wouldn’t go that far in naming it.).

And the Black & Brown Scare

Meanwhile the Liberty City 7 case, charging seven poor men in Miami with an “aspirational rather than operational” plot to attack the Sears Tower, gets ready for a third trial.

Serious coverage on that is also available at the Black Agenda Report.