Highlight CAT's charge to government on ensuring "absolute prohibition" of torture

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On the eve of International Human Rights Day, civil society organisations defending human rights highlighted the recommendations of the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) to the State of Bolivia during the session held on 25-26 November in Geneva, Switzerland. They point out that the recommendations constitute a set of priority actions to be implemented by the State in the immediate future.

"The UN Committee called on the Bolivian state to ensure that the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is included in mandatory training programmes, as well as in the rules and instructions concerning the duties and functions of all public officials of the state, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, medical, prison and migration personnel," reads the statement signed by 10 institutions.

In response to the Bolivian authorities' presentation of the report, the Committee regretted that in Bolivia the crime of torture has still not been criminalised as established in the Convention ratified by the State itself, "despite the fact that the State has registered 3,017 cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the national level between 2013 and August 2021", according to figures from the Ombudsman's Office.

Of concern to the Committee was the "failure to establish penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, as well as the continued application of a statute of limitations to the crime of torture", they note.

The Committee urged the State to strengthen the institutional framework of the Ombudsman's Office, as well as to ensure that the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, Sepret (Servicio para la Prevención de la Tortura) has the necessary technical, financial and human resources to carry out its work effectively.

It also urged the State to ensure that pre-trial detention is used exceptionally, for the shortest possible time, given that, according to the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, there is a prison occupancy rate of 264%.

In relation to the human rights violations committed during the socio-political crisis of 2019-2020, the Committee expressed its concern at the insufficient progress in the investigation and prosecution of allegations of torture and ill-treatment that occurred in this context, "It therefore recommended that the State establish effective protocols to regulate the actions of the forces of law and order during social protests, to establish a mechanism to follow up on the recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, created through an agreement signed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to assist in the investigations of the aforementioned events.

Another of the Committee's requests to the State is to renew the presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to accompany the implementation of the recommendations of international human rights protection mechanisms.

On the other hand, they add, in order to reverse the worrying situation of the State in relation to the low number of investigations and prosecutions of cases of torture due, among other reasons, to the lack of training of justice operators in the investigation of these crimes, as well as acts of intimidation of victims, the State should, in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Committee, "carry out an urgent reform of the justice system in order to guarantee its independence and respect for due process, increase training activities for prosecutors and judges in order to improve the quality of investigations and the correct classification of the facts, in accordance with the Istanbul and Minnesota Protocols".

It also recommends establishing a system of protection and assistance for victims and witnesses of acts of torture of detainees, to protect them against any form of reprisals, as well as a review of anti-terrorist legislation, in particular a reform of the criminal offences of sedition and terrorism. The state must also take urgent measures to reduce prison overcrowding and reverse the rates of unconvicted prisoners.

In relation to gender-based violence in the State, they say, the Committee urges the Bolivian authorities to modify the criminal offence of rape, as it is currently based on force and does not define the term "consent" or establish appropriate presumptions; and to repeal the crime of statutory rape from the Penal Code.

In addition, the State must guarantee essential services for victims of gender-based violence to receive the necessary medical, psychological, social and legal care, and ensure comprehensive reparation, as well as the creation of specialised courts and mandatory training for justice and health operators on the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence cases.

Likewise, the State must review criminal legislation to guarantee legal, safe and effective access to voluntary termination of pregnancy (VTP), especially when it causes harm or suffering to the pregnant woman or girl, as well as guarantee that women are not criminally prosecuted and ensure safe and timely VTP health services for all women and adolescents, especially in poor and rural areas.

The document is signed by the Institute Against Torture (ITEI), the Human Rights Community, Fundación Construir, Ipas Bolivia, FUBE una brisa de esperanza, Cladem Bolivia, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Equality Now and Catholics for a Free Choice (CDD).

by Nancy Castro

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