The International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is concerned that President Evo Morales is undermining the rule of law in Bolivia, by publicly criticising the nation’s judges and calling for members of the Constitutional Court to be tried by Congress. If found guilty, the Constitutional Court judges may be removed from the bench, and / or face a prison sentence of up to two years.
Emilio Cardenas, Co-Chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) says, ‘The Executive must respect the separation of powers and refrain from interfering in the judiciary in order to avoid exacerbating the crisis in the rule of law in Bolivia.
The IBA calls for Bolivia to observe its international human rights obligations under treaties which it has ratified. Bolivia is bound by article 116, paragraph VI of the Bolivian Constitution to protect and uphold the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, the Bolivian State is obligated under article 8.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. The IBA urges the Bolivian State to refrain from any further threats or actions which interfere with the ability of judges to carry out their work freely and impartially.’
The call for trial by President Morales of members of the Constitutional Court bench was made in response to a Constitutional Court decision issued on 9 May and subsequently confirmed on 30 May to terminate the employment of four judges who had been appointed to the Criminal Tribunal within the Supreme Court by President Morales in a controversial move last year.
Many alleged the appointments bypassed normal constitutional requirements. The Constitutional Court said that although the appointing of the four Criminal Tribunal judges was constitutional, they decided that the four judges should be removed, stating that the Executive can only appoint interim judges to the Supreme Court for a maximum period of 90 days, which had already elapsed.
The current predicament of the rule of law in Bolivia is of grave concern to the IBA. The situation of the Constitutional Court judges, who appear to be suffering persecution as a consequence of fulfilling their duty and highlighting an error on the part of the Bolivian State, should be rectified without delay.
This is particularly important given that the Constitutional Court judges now being called to trial by President Morales over their decision to end the contract of the Supreme Court judges, removed the very judges that would be responsible for the trials of President Morales’ two predecessors. The prosecution of the former leaders was instigated by the current Bolivian Executive. Justice must be impartial and independent and any act which violates this principle goes against the core pillars of a democratic system.
For further information/expanded commentary, please contact:
Romana St Matthew - Daniel
International Bar Association
1 Stephen Street
London W1T 1AT
Tel: + 44 (0)20 7691 6868
Fax: + 44 (0)20 7691 6544
NOTES TO THE EDITOR
The challenges facing the judiciary in Bolivia were highlighted in an earlier report issued by the IBA following a high level visit to the country in 2006. To download, from the IBA website, the Executive Summary of the report on Bolivia (see related documents section)
In 2006, an international delegation organized by the Human Rights Institute of the IBA, had the opportunity to visit Bolivia between 14 and 18 August with the purpose of analyzing the independence of the justice system and the ability of the legal profession to carry out its duties. The high-level delegation also carried out an examination of any obstacles to the administration of justice and to identify if the appropriate safeguards existed in order to maintain the legal profession operating independently and free from threat. As a result of the visit, a report titled ‘Justice Denied: The urgent need for meaningful reform of the justice system in Bolivia’ was produced (currently only available in Spanish, see related documents section below).