Urgent Interventions

Bolivia: excessive and disproportionate use of force against social protests

Case BOL 170103.ESCRC
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Concern
Arbitrary arrests and detentions/ Disproportionate use of force/killings/violations of economic, social and cultural rights

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Bolivia.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos, a member of OMCT network, of violent repression by the police and the army, notably in the department of Cochabamba, against protests related to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. According to the information received, the police forces and the army have been using disproportionate and excessive force from January 13th till January 15th to curb demonstrations being held by persons from different sectors of society - including retired people, coca growers, farmers and students, resulting in the death of four persons, arbitrary detentions and reports of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The department of Cochabamba, and its different areas, including Aguirre, Parotani, Chimore and Colomi, have reportedly been particularly affected by the repression. It is reported three persons died on January 14th and one died on January 15th as a result of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the police and military forces, who used live ammunition against the demonstrators. Dozens of persons also have allegedly been wounded by live ammunition, including injuries to the head, as in the case of Esteban Garcia, who was wounded by a bullet that destroyed his lower jawbone. Due to the serious state of his health, Esteban Garcia has reportedly been transferred to Santa Cruz.

In addition to the excessive and disproportionate use of force, a wave or arbitrary arrests and detentions, affecting 165 persons (20 women and 145 men), also took place from January 14th to January 15th in the Cochabamba Department. Although all of these persons have been reportedly released, their transfer, following their arrest, to military facilities has been carried out in violation of the Bolivian Constitution and national laws. Moreover, according to detainees’ testimonies, many of them are suffering from different type of injuries, highlighting the violence used by police agents and the military forces during their detention. It is also reported that the detainees’ conditions of detention did not meet international standards, as they were reportedly held in hangars with corrugated iron roofs, without ventilation and without access to food, medical assistance and toilets for several hours. Today, charges are reportedly being held against 20 of the 165 released persons, including instigations to public delinquency, attacks against public transport and sedition.

The town of Calamarca has also reportedly been the theatre of repression carried out against a peaceful demonstration led by retired persons. It is reported that the authorities intervened against a demonstration launched by retired persons and forcibly transferred thousands of them, without their consent and using force, from the town of Calamarca to their place of origin. During the transfer, 11 persons, the majority of whom were retired people, died in a car accident on the way La Paz-Oruro.

Background information

The excessive use of force by police and military force, along with recourse to arbitrary arrests and detentions occurs against the background of social protests launched on January 13th 2003 by organisations from the civil society, including farmers, coca growers, students, retired peoples and trade unions.

This social mobilisation results from a long process of economic, social and cultural rights violations and responds to the deterioration of the socio-economic situation throughout the country, where an important part of the population lacks access to basic necessities.

Amongst others requests, the social movements are demanding fair distribution of land; the suspension of the forced eradication of coca plantations and the modification of law 1008; the end to impunity regarding the murderers of the landless peasants in Pananti; a new proposal for educational reform that corresponds to the requests formulated by Bolivian society; the rejection of the ALCA; the legal recognition of the autonomy for El Alto public university; the promulgation of a special law to support indebted persons; and the necessity of a national gas policy to benefit the population.

Bolivia is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) since 1982. In its 2001 concluding observations on Bolivia (U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1/Add.60), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, expressed its concern about, among other the highly uneven distribution of wealth throughout the country; the marginalisation and discrimination against indigenous communities who constitute the majority of the rural population and who suffer from inadequate access to basic education, adequate housing and health services; and the fact that land reform is not a top priority on the Government’s agenda. In this respect, the Committee urged that the Bolivian Government ensure that the ICESCR is taken into account in the formulation and implementation of all policies concerning economic, social and cultural rights; to take remedial action against the marginalisation of and discrimination against indigenous populations; and to pursue land reform as a priority.

Action requested

Please write to the Bolivian authorities, urging them to:

i. put a stop to its excessive and disproportionate use of force;

ii. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these events in order to identify those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;

iii. guarantee economic, social and cultural rights throughout the country;

iv. implement the concluding observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights contained in U.N. Doc. E/C.12/Add.60

v. guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights standards.


Vicepresidencia de la República (Dr. Carlos D. Mesa G.) ,

Ministerio de gobierno (dr. Alberto Gasser) , Tel/fax: ++591 2442665 (La Paz)

Ministerio de la Presidencia (presidente: lic. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada) , Tel/fax: ++591 2202321 (La Paz)

Fiscal General de la República, Tel : ++591 46451788, Fax: ++591 24651047

Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Parlamento (Dr. Jaime Ríos Chacón), Tel: 2202314, Fax: ++591 2201921

Misión Permanente de la República de Bolivia ante las Naciones Unidas, Ginebra, Suiza, Fax. : (+ 41 22) 908 07 22 ; e-mail :

Please also write to the embassies of Bolivia in your respective country.

Geneva, January 17, 2003

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts