The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Bolivia is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Bolivia is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Bolivia is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Bolivia has accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 21(4) of the 2009 Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia provides that Bolivians have the rights to "freedom of assembly and association, publicly and privately, for legal purposes".
Peaceful assemblies are generally permitted in Bolivia, although there have been reports of excessive use of force against demonstrators in recent years.
Peaceful "social mobilisation" had been guaranteed by Supreme Decree 1359 of 2012. This decree was abrogated by Supreme Decree 2754 of 2016. Engaging in violence during an assembly is an offence under the Penal Code.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Bolivian law does not specifically restrict police use of force during assemblies.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Article 56 of the 1995 Organic Law governing the National Police (Act No. 734/1995) stipulates that police use of firearms must comply with the law and may 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.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Bolivia, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Bolivia did not address the issue of peaceful assembly in its 2014 Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council.
There has been no case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights involving the right of peaceful assembly in Bolivia in recent years. But in 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 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."
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Bolivia:
Bolivian law protects the right to peaceful assembly. However, protests are sometimes marred by clashes between demonstrators and police, or other violence. In December 2018, the TSE [Supreme Electoral Tribunal] building in Santa Cruz was burned down during an anti-government demonstration that erupted after the TSE confirmed Morales’s candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. Instances of violence have accompanied an ongoing protest movement led by coca producers who say regional ceilings on coca cultivation have harmed their livelihoods.