The year 2019 was an action-packed year for the Institute of Therapy and Research of the Effects of Torture and State Violence (ITEI). First of all, ITEI delivered multiple workshops during the second year of our “Prevention of Intra-Prison Violence” project, which aims to prevent intra-prison violence and build harmony among prisoners as well as between the detained and prison staff. Secondly, ITEI participated actively in Bolivian civil society discourse by organizing and attending conferences, seminars, debates and other meetings concerning topics such as torture, human rights, democracy and the socio-political state of Bolivia in general. Thirdly, ITEI was active internationally by taking part in International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ (IRCT) annual conference in Budapest and participating at the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. Moreover, ITEI continuously provided medical and psychological attention in our La Paz office and the various prisons of La Paz.
However, last year will be remembered the best in ITEI, as in whole Bolivia, for the political crisis that included mass protests, ousting of Evo Morales, massacres of Sacaba and Senkata, as well as other rife human rights violations. ITEI will have hands full of work for years to come with the consequences of torture, state violence and other human rights violations that occurred during the crisis. This article will first review monthly last year’s activities and then draw conclusions.
EVENTS OF 2019
The starting of the year included organizing two week-long workshops in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba concerning prevention, documentation and denunciation of torture. ITEI organised these workshops together with the internationally recognized experts Carlos Martín Beristain and Juan Pablo Alban Alencastro. In January, ITEI also distributed its report, containing testimonies of torture in the Villa Busch prison, for the prisoners in Villa Busch. Moreover, in February, ITEI’s director Emma Bolshia Bravo participated in the workshop of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) in Sucre.
In March, ITEI organised two workshops for the non-commissioned officers of the Bolivian Armed Forces. The workshops concentrated on the following topics: “Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment"; "Committee for the Prevention of Torture"; and “Physical and Psychological Consequences of Torture". Also, in March, ITEI’s psychologist Andrés Gautier participated in the annual conference of the IRCT in Budapest as ITEI’s representative and IRCT’s council member.
In May, ITEI participated in the night of museums that was organised by the city of La Paz to educate citizens. To celebrate the event, ITEI put up exhibition stands informing visitors about torture, state violence and human rights violations in Bolivia. Later that month, Andrés attended the presentation of civil society reports for the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review of Bolivia that took place later in October. In the meeting, Andrés presented ITEI’s recommendations and thoughts. Moreover, in May, Emma was invited to attend a seminar “The Importance of Living in a Democracy” which was held at the Saint Andrews school.
In June, ITEI continued with the second year of the workshops for the project “Prevention of Intra-Prison Violence”. The workshops started with watching and analyzing the “Leonera” movie at the prisons of Obrajes, Miraflores and Qalauma. Later that month, ITEI held workshops in the same prisons about the definition and characteristics of torture and other forms of maltreatment. On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26th of June), ITEI together with the Coalition against Torture (CAT), published a statement about preventive detention and torture in Bolivia. Furthermore, on the 30th of June, ITEI participated in a protest for sexual diversity for the final day of the Pride Month.
In July, the workshops continued in the prisons of Miraflores, Obrajes and Qalauma. The third set of workshops introduced the international rules of Nelson Mandela and Bangkok for the prisoners. The fourth workshops focused on the due process rights and especially the assumption of innocence. Furthermore, ITEI broadened the scope of the prison project by delivering two workshops for the penitentiary staff: police and administrative personnel. In July, ITEI also organised a debate “Dictatorship, Never Again” together with other social actors.
In August, ITEI delivered certifications for the participants of ITEI’s course on “Prevention, Documentation and Denunciation of Torture”. ITEI organised this course, which aimed to train justice operators to prevent and fight against torture, together with UMSA, CAT and the United Nations. Moreover, the “Prevention of Intra-Prison Violence” workshops continued at Miraflores and with the prison personnel. The latter workshops focused on how to handle anxiety and stress, for example teaching physical exercises countering these feelings.
In September, ITEI organised a seminar: “Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Strengthening the Right to Defense and Due Process for the Vulnerable Populations.” The seminar featured Argentinian guest speaker, Dr Mario Coriolano, who talked about the principle of comprehensive defence. Workshops also continued normally in September, including workshops on the management of anger and hate in Miraflores and Obrajes, as well as workshops on conflicts for the penitentiary regiment staff. Moreover, in September, ITEI also published two articles, one introducing ITEI’s project reducing intra-prison violence and the other one reviewing the state of indigenous rights in Bolivia for the celebration of the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.
In October, Andrés and Emma represented ITEI at the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review conference in Geneva. At the UPR meeting, ITEI presented policy recommendations for the representatives of different nations to be installed into official recommendations for the state of Bolivia. Moreover, ITEI published two articles in October, one celebrating the International Day of Non-Violence and the other one reviewing the current state of Bolivian judicial system. Furthermore, ITEI organised two workshops, one attempting to create confidence among prisoners in Miraflores and the other one teaching the instructors of Bolivian police about human rights and prevention of torture. Unfortunately, these were the last workshops ITEI delivered in 2019 because Bolivia drove deep into the protests after October’s elections.
Protests started first in neighbouring Chile and the grave human rights violations pushed ITEI to support our comrades in Chile by releasing an official statement about the situation. The statement requested the government of Chile to calm down the situation and protect human rights. It did not take long after the elections of October 20ththat protests also erupted in Bolivia. The protests caused President Evo Morales’ resignation and Jeanine Añez’s rise to the Presidency. This triggered even larger protests that had taken place against Morales. However, the protests were halted when the military – ordered by Añez to the streets and shielded by a decree of impunity – fiercely stopped the protests with violence and repression of human rights. The worst incidents took place in Senkata and Sacaba where the military killed 20 protestors.
November was extremely busy for ITEI due to the aforementioned political crisis that produced deaths, injuries, arbitrary detentions and other human rights violations. During the busy month, ITEI made multiple visits to the detention centres and judicial cells to observe the conditions of prisoners and to collect their testimonies and to gather evidence of the human rights violations committed by the security forces. At the end of the month, ITEI started working with the community of Senkata – collecting their testimonies, as well as providing medical attention and psychological treatment. In November, ITEI also attended a civil society conference organised by Unitas. The conference brought together the Bolivian civil society to reflect upon the recent political crisis in Bolivia. Additionally, ITEI published, in the midst of the crisis, an article celebrating the International Day for Tolerance – requesting toleration in Bolivia.
On the worldwide Human Rights Day, 10th of December, ITEI published a pronouncement demonstrating and denouncing the human rights situation in Bolivia in the aftermath of November’s political crisis. The report covered the massive human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detentions and other forms of state violence committed by the Bolivian state and its military and police. On the same day, ITEI also published a more extensive article reviewing the events of November and the human rights violations that occurred. ITEI also continued to work in Senkata, collecting testimonies and providing medical and psychological care for the injured and the families of the injured, detained and killed. Furthermore, ITEI attended a civil society event for the publication of UPR’s recommendations.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The year 2019 will be remembered in Bolivia as the year of the political crisis that included invalidated elections, mass protests, the exit of Evo Morales, the rise of Jeanine Añez, state repression, massive human rights violations and at least 36 deaths. The psychological and physical consequences of state violence, torture and other human rights violations, such as arbitrary detentions, abuse of due process rights and poor prison conditions will leave a dark mark on the lives of countless people and the Bolivian society as a whole.
The physical and psychological suffering will certainly keep ITEI engaged for years to come. To help victims to overcome the suffering, ITEI will provide medical and psychological attention for the affected and their families. Besides, ITEI will work tirelessly to obtain justice for the victims of torture, state violence and other human rights violations. We will do this by investigating the acts of torture and human rights violations and by denouncing and informing the population in Bolivia and globally about the crimes that occurred during the crisis. Moreover, ITEI will work towards constructing shared knowledge of what happened in Bolivia during October and November 2019 and the months that followed.
Nonetheless, the year was much more than just protests and violence. For example, ITEI successfully completed the second year of the project: “Prevention of Intra-Prison Violence” by organising numerous workshops for the detained. Also, ITEI organised many workshops for the prison personnel, police and military about human rights and the prevention of torture. In addition, ITEI organised seminars and events to educate the citizens and to stir up public discussion about torture, state violence, human rights and democracy in Bolivia. Besides, ITEI attended various conferences nationally and internationally to participate in conversations about torture and human rights and to promote the implementation of actions related to these crucial topics. Moreover, ITEI continued to treat medically and psychologically people affected by torture and state violence. All things considered, ITEI had an enormously active year.
13th of March 2020
Valtteri Nurminen, ITEI Volunteer