IACHR Deplores Situation of Captive Communities in Bolivia

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deplores the fact that a large number of indigenous Guaraní families in Bolivia continue in a state of bondage analogous to slavery.

In a report on its November 2006 visit to Bolivia, the IACHR said it had received testimony indicating that in several regions of the Bolivian Chaco, there are families made of up individuals of all ages—including children and elderly adults—who are subject to abusive work schedules and in some cases are even threatened with corporal punishment. These families are paid in kind or with meager amounts of money, which generates a state of permanent, continuing indebtedness to estate owners for the provision of foodstuffs, clothing, and other products, a status that can end up lasting for life and even be passed on to successive generations.

The IACHR strongly reiterates that these practices violate international human rights law, in particular Article 6 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, and Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all instruments to which Bolivia is party.

The Inter-American Commission recalls that the Bolivian State has the obligation to eradicate all situations of bondage and/or forced labor throughout its territory immediately and as a priority matter. As the IACHR recommended in the report on its visit to Bolivia, published on June 28, 2007, the State should "guarantee effective enforcement of the new law relating to agrarian reform, adopting the necessary measures to eliminate the obstacles…that have prevented access to land and territory for all sectors of Bolivian society. As part of this process, it is essential that the State bear in mind the particular relationship that indigenous peoples have with the land and that consequently, in the process of land titling, it must give priority to recognizing their ancestral lands and territories as essential for the survival of their cultural identity."

The IACHR has also been made aware that acts of violence have been reported in areas adjacent to the lands that are in the process of being regularized. The Commission received information about acts of violence in which a number of people were injured on the night of April 13, 2008, in Cordillera Province, in the Department of Santa Cruz. The Commission was also informed that two journalists were physically attacked and held for hours, while leaders of the Guaraní People's Assembly reported that they had received death threats.

The Inter-American Commission condemns these developments and reminds the State of Bolivia of its obligation to adopt the necessary measures to prevent them from being repeated and to investigate and punish those responsible, with strict respect for human rights.

The IACHR joins in the efforts being made by the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Secretary General in calling on all sectors to engage in immediate dialogue in order to avoid situations of risk that could compromise democracy in Bolivia.

[Source: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Press Release No. 17/08, Washington, D.C., 25Apr08]

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