Judicial failings

Bolivian judiciary's independence questioned as politicians continue to use it for revenge.

Jeanine Áñez, former transitional President of Bolivia between November 2019 and November 2020, has been in prison for almost six months on accusations of leading a coup and facing charges of sedition, terrorism and conspiracy. Still awaiting trial, she has denied all allegations and claims to be a victim of political persecution.

Last week, Áñez was taken to hospital after she injured herself in an attempt to take her own life due to, what her daughter described, as severe depression. Meanwhile, 23 former heads of state and governments of Latin America demanded the UN and the Inter-America Commission of Human Rights to request Áñez’s immediate release from prison.

A former Bolivian diplomat and international expert on human rights commented, “The abuse of the justice system in recent months is so strong that it has caused public protests and the pronouncement of the international community. The most visible case is that of former President Jeanine Áñez who is being held illegally and without a trial, and she is also being tortured because she has been prohibited any visits and is completely incommunicado. She was taken to the extreme of attempting to take her own life.”

“The abuse of the justice system in recent months is so strong that it has caused public protests and the pronouncement of the international community.”

Former diplomat, Bolivia

Since the electoral victory of current President Luis Arce, the judiciary has filed charges against 60 officials from Áñez’s administration. Similarly, during her administration, the attorney general opened cases for fraud, corruption, terrorism and sedition against former President Evo Morales and his cabinet members. This trend evidences the lack of independence of Bolivia’s judiciary which, since 2011, are elected by popular vote, making them vulnerable to political pressures as candidates are selected by Congress. 

The Episcopal Conference of Bolivia has offered to facilitate a national convention summoning Bolivia’s main political groups to hold talks over a judicial reform. While the opposition supports talks for change, the ruling MAS party has rejected engagement in any reform effort since 2019.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Bolivia (“IGEI-Bolivia”), created by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and Bolivia purposefully set up to investigate the 2019 political and social crisis in the country, concluded that the Bolivian state needs to engage in a complete judicial reform to grant an impartial trial to those involved in the 2019 events. The report was a setback for President Arce, according to an independent political analyst, “Contrary to what President Arce said in a press conference, the report goes against the narrative of a coup. It establishes that the cause of the outbreak of violence was a lack of respect for the February 21 referendum, where the people rejected Morales postulation for a fourth presidential candidacy. The report also claims that the Bolivian judiciary is totally corrupt and politicised.”

Meanwhile, the EU and UN agencies in Bolivia have called upon Bolivian political actors to follow the recommendations of IGEI-Bolivia report while refusing to get drawn into the country’s internal political affairs.

“How can the country move forward when every judgement lacks legitimacy and every court ruling is flawed.”

Political analyst, Bolivia

All of our sources felt that judicial reform was an essential first step, “How can the country move forward when every judgement lacks legitimacy and every court ruling is flawed,” exclaimed a political analyst, “Unfortunately, the government has no incentive to enter into dialogue, so the people protest. With severe health and economic crises the priority must be to pacify the country otherwise the violence could erupt again at any moment.”

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