End Mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: Bolivia 4 to 10 Septembre 2012

10 September 2012

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I undertook an official visit to Bolivia from 04 to 10 September 2012. During my visit, I have held meetings in La Paz, Sucre and Santa Cruz. I have met with representatives of the Government, both at the national, departmental, regional and local levels, members of the legislative and judicial branches, as well as representatives of civil society, non-governmental organizations, indigenous and peasant organizations, members of Afro-Bolivian community, victims of racism and racial discrimination, human rights lawyers, and other relevant groups and actors.

I would like to thank the Government of Bolivia for the invitation and cooperation as well as openness in the preparation and conduct of my visit. I would like to thank the authorities for the insightful and rich discussions I had with the Ministry of Presidency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Cultures, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Government, Ministry of Autonomy, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defense, Vice-Ministry of Lands as well as the Chambers of Senators and Deputies of the Plurinational Assembly and its relevant Commissions. I am also grateful to the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Land-Environmental Court, and Governors of Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz as well as members of the Departmental Assemblies. During my visit, I also met with the Ombudsman, the Permanent Council of National Committee against Racism and All Forms of Discriminations, Armed Forces, Police Authority, and the Council of Indigenous Autonomies of Bolivia, and I am thankful to these institutions for their cooperation. Civil society organizations have also been very helpful.

I came to Bolivia to obtain a better understanding of the situation in the country by listening to all relevant stakeholders, to consider the existing challenges to the elimination of racism and racial discrimination in Bolivia, and to engage constructively with the Government on possible ways of ensuring successful realization of laws, policies and measures undertaken in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as to formulate recommendations to help the Government to effectively address racism and racial discrimination and identify good practices.
I would like to underline that I undertook my visit without any preconceived ideas and was keen to hear the views, concerns and experiences of all relevant stakeholders in the areas pertaining to my mandate.

During my visit to Bolivia, I have paid special attention to the situation of indigenous populations, people of African descent, and other vulnerable groups. My visit to Bolivia has a particular significance as it is my first country visit since my appointment by the Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

My visit has been undertaken at an opportune moment when Bolivia is undergoing a period of important political and social transformation both at the national and local levels. I have observed that significant progress and achievements have been made that provide a favourable framework for the elimination of racism and racial discrimination in the country. These include the adoption of a new Constitution in 2009 and related legal, political and institutional reforms that the country has been undertaking to build a pluralistic and inclusive society in the face of considerable challenges. In particular, policy and legal measures undertaken to address the exclusion of indigenous peoples, Afro-Bolivians and other vulnerable communities and groups should be highlighted in this context. I would also like to note that all the issues addressed during my visit must be understood in the context of the history of Bolivia, in particular with regard to the situation of disadvantaged groups, particularly indigenous and other racial and ethnic communities. My preliminary observations and recommendations are below.

Key legislative, institutional and political achievements

Since the adoption of the new Constitution, Bolivia has made significant efforts to fulfill its international human rights obligations and commitments with respect to the situation of various disadvantaged indigenous communities and other racial and ethnic communities and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

During the Universal Periodic Review of Bolivia at the Human Rights Council in 2010 the Government reaffirmed its commitment to intensify and continue to move forward in implementing programmes and measures aimed at combating racism and racial discrimination; to initiate sectoral policies taking into account the needs of certain vulnerable groups; to continue efforts to eliminate discrimination against indigenous peoples, Afro-Bolivians and other vulnerable communities; to take necessary measures to ensure that the traditional indigenous justice system complies with the provisions of the international human rights treaties that Bolivia has ratified; to take further measures to bring to justice all perpetrators of racist violence and abuse in order to eradicate impunity for those who commit human rights violations, to continue to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples, placing priority on the adoption of a law to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination and criminalizing such offences; to intensify measures to ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected at all levels, and to continue to consolidate the rights of indigenous peoples both in practice and within its legal framework, thereby guaranteeing their participation and consultation.

While undertaking the assessment of the situation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Bolivia, I have noted that important legislative, institutional and political measures have been taken by the country. In this regard I would like to welcome the adoption of the Plurinational State Constitution of 2009, which prohibits all forms of discrimination and recognizes the rights of all persons and communities including peasants, indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivian peoples, and the 2010 Law against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination (Act No. 045), and approval of the Policy of the State of Bolivia against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination (Action Plan 2012-2015). All these provide a fairly comprehensive and valuable legislative and policy framework for the elimination of racism and racial discrimination.

At the institutional level, important steps have been made such as the creation of the Vice-Ministry of Decolonization, which among others is tasked with prevention and elimination of racism and the establishment of the National Committee against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination.

Main challenges

As I noted earlier, much has been achieved by the Government and the people of Bolivia in the last few years in combating racism and racial discrimination. However, challenges remain, particularly in relation to the implementation of the policy and legal measures. I would also like to highlight other areas that deserve specific attention and determined action by the Government at all levels.

While commending the achievements in enacting different pieces of legislation and in establishing the necessary institutions on combatting racism and racial discrimination, I note that the pace, as well as effective implementation are hindered by the lack of resources and capacity. In this regard, it is instrumental to allocate adequate resources to relevant institutions and strengthen their capacities and expertise. I therefore encourage different Ministries to include in their annual budgets adequate resources to tackle issues of racism and racial discrimination within their areas of responsibility and maintain the continued cooperation with relevant UN agencies, and in particular with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia.

Discrimination against indigenous people and other vulnerable communities and groups still persists, and this is exacerbated by underlying structural inequalities that reinforce their exclusion and vulnerability to racism and discrimination. In this regard, it is important to tackle the structural inequalities and exclusion especially in areas such as education, health and employment.

Access to justice still poses significant challenges to victims of racism and racial discrimination, in particular indigenous people and other vulnerable communities and groups. The delivery of justice is slow and expensive in general, and in many cases inaccessible for victims of racism and racial discrimination. In particular, it is important that the determination and conclusion of cases of racism and racial discrimination are speeded up to strengthen the credibility of the justice system and to address the demand for justice by victims. In addition to the efforts and judicial and administrative actions to address the cases of racial violence, it is important to enhance measures aimed at providing various forms of assistance to victims, in particular medical and psychological assistance and support for livelihood opportunities.

One of the most worrying issues is the situation of some of the highly vulnerable communities including various indigenous and peasant communities and those subjected to servitude or forced labour, as well as Afro-Bolivians. Various manifestations of racism against these groups include racist attacks and insults in many spheres of life. Therefore, it is of vital importance to suppress all forms of racism against these highly vulnerable groups by strengthening the implementation of legal and other useful measures such as awareness raising, education and training.

Education is a fundamental means of eradicating racism and racial discrimination. However, it is of great concern that there are reports of racist insults and discriminatory acts against vulnerable indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivians within institutions of education at all levels. Discrimination also persists in terms of access to education. Such manifestations of racism should be eradicated through strict application of legal and administrative measures as well as adoption and implementation of internal anti-racism policies and codes of conducts within institutions of education.

There have been efforts to address the stigmatization and stereotyping of refugees and migrants. However, there are still serious concerns of discriminatory treatment by law enforcement agencies against certain groups of migrants which should be dealt through training of relevant officials, public education and awareness raising campaigns.

As stated in the Durban Declaration, media can make a positive contribution to the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. However, it is of concern that some media outlets in Bolivia have at times disseminated ideas and messages of racial superiority that incite racial hatred, and are not doing enough to provide a balanced coverage that includes the voice of discriminated communities and groups. It is important that media takes more responsibility in combatting racism and racial discrimination.

I welcome the adoption of the Law 045, which is in fulfillment of the requirements of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) as well as recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Durban Declaration and Program of Action on the need to enact anti-racism legislation. More specifically, the General Recommendation 7 of the CERD states that the obligation to enact legislation to eradicate racism is mandatory. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also requires that any advocacy of racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law. I note that there are concerns over the compatibility of the Law 045 with the protection of freedom of expression. However, it is important to point out that according to the CERD and established international law, the prohibition of promotion of ideas of racial superiority and racist propaganda is compatible with the obligation to protect and respect freedom of expression and opinion.
In the ultimate instant, any compatibility or otherwise of Law 045 with the obligation to protect freedom of expression and opinion would have to be determined by the judiciary in accordance with the provisions of the Bolivian Constitution and in accordance with Bolivia’s obligations under international human rights law.

Concluding remarks

I am pleased to note that overall Bolivia has made considerable progress in addressing the problems of racism and racial discrimination, and offers important examples on measures that other States can undertake in their efforts to combat racism and racial discrimination. However, as I have observed, major challenges remain. In particular, all these efforts need to be consolidated so that effective outcome is achieved for the benefit of the most vulnerable communities and groups.