Violent groups take over human rights organisation in Bolivia: assault and sacking of CEJIS in Santa Cruz

Last afternoon, on September 9th a group of approximately 50 vandals entered by force, completely sacked and set on fire the offices of the Center for Juridical Studies and Social Investigation (CEJIS) in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Eastern Bolivia.

At 6 PM, three 4x4 vehicles and other motor vehicles arrived at the doors of the institution, from which descended youth armed with sticks, knives, torches and stones. They used one of the vehicles to knock down the entrance gate. The four police officers that were guarding the building fled for fear of reprisals. Once inside, the attackers robbed and destroyed what was in the interior. They broke displays, windows, doors, furniture, computer equipment, files, and documentation. They made a big fire in the street, before the violated doors of the institution and set other fires inside the office. Extremely important documentation on the progress of titling of indigenous land and other studies has been lost. Also destroyed and burned on the street was at least a third of the library, reknowned nationally for its important specialization in indigenous and agrarian issues. There were no injuries to the personnel due to the fact that they were evacuated slightly before the attack. The CEJIS offices in Trinidad and Riberalta, both in the state of Beni, are both under threat, where similar actions of violence are ongoing.

The offices of CEJIS, along with its personnel, were attacked more than 15 time in the last five years. In the last months the institution suffered two attacks with molotov cocktails (in November 2007 and last August). In its 30 years of work, CEJIS has provided legal assistance to indigenous, landless and peasant organizations in the process of titling their lands and territories. It has been a permanent ally of the social movements in the legal codification of their rights in national legislation, and advised and accompanied the progress of social organizations in the Constituent Assembly. This work has implied a permanent risk on the personnel and offices of CEJIS, threatened by the sectors of power that have historically controlled the region of Eastern Bolivia, who now feel menaced by the advance of the rights of the most marginalized sectors of our society.

Yesterday in the city of Santa Cruz, in addition to CEJIS, were also assaulted and sacked the regional offices of National Taxation, the national telecommunications company (ENTEL), the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), the Migration offices, the offices of state channel 7, the radio of the New Country Network. This chain of aggressions forms part of a plan that is in action and continues today with the attack on the national and regional indigenous organizations of Santa Cruz and the peasants rooted in the city, the popular radios – like Alternative Radio, which works out of the Women’s House – and other human rights organizations, by the same groups that threw themselves against CEJIS.

The worsening of the violence in all of the Bolivian Orient, which started today under the slogan of a “better redistribution of oil income for the regions” has changed by a de facto coup in the states of this part of the country and a wave of intolerant and racist persecution to all that are considered its enemies, now with the demand that the Government of Evo Morales recognize a regional autonomy with separatist stripes, unacceptable for the majority of the population.

Because of all that stated:

1. We denounce the assualt and sacking of our offices in the city of Santa Cruz by a crowd organized by the people that are devastating the city.

2. We denounce that the lives and the security of our personnel is at risk, before the retreat of our office police guard and the total lack of security in the city for certain officials, now that the National Police and the Armed Forces are not acting.

3. We denounce before the closing of the main alternative media sources and the deterioration of the telephone lines of the Entel business, that freedom of expression and opinion in the state are restrcited and that the offices of CEJIS will remain temporarily closed.

4. We demand that the Local Police of the District of Santa Cruz and the National Police conduct an investigation and punish those responsibly, materially and intellectually of these deplorable acts, who are openly identified by the media,

5. We demand that the Bolivian state grant a guarantee of life and personal safety to the officials of CEJIS in Santa Cruz, Trinidad, and Riberalta and appeal to the international conventions on Human Rights to which it is subscribed.

We ask all human rights and civil society organization to declare themselves in solidarity with the situation in which Bolivia is living in.

Santa Cruz de la SierraBolivia, September 10th 2008

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