By Alan Macleod – Mar 12, 2021
Since its establishment, HRW has consistently been criticized for being an agent of U.S. foreign policy, employing former U.S. government officials in key positions and displaying bias against governments unfriendly to the United States.
New York – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned a general amnesty for over a thousand Bolivians persecuted under the one-year dictatorship of Jeanine Añez. Yesterday, the Washington-based human rights organization decried the plan to drop all charges against people resisting the government as “opening the door to impunity.” Its Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said that the new law “undermines victims’ access to justice and violates the fundamental principle of equality before the law.” HRW alleges that a handful of anti-coup demonstrators carried out serious crimes, such as arson or kidnapping, while opposing the regime, thus making general amnesty seriously problematic.
New President Luis Arce won an overwhelming electoral victory in October after a citizens’ revolt paralyzed the country and forced Añez to hold an election. Human Rights Watch notes with concern that this new decree “suggests that anyone prosecuted by the Áñez government for actions during social protests had their rights violated,” something that many consider to be obvious and uncontroversial.
“Human Rights Watch is criticizing the Bolivian government for lifting the charges against leftists who were persecuted by the former coup regime (seriously). This is why Bolivians are suspicious of these U.S. NGOs,” reacted Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas.
Human Rights Watch is criticising the Bolivian government for lifting the charges against leftists who were persecuted by the former coup regime (seriously). This is why Bolivians are suspicious of these US NGOs. https://t.co/pV8My0u9FU
— Ollie Vargas (@OVargas52) March 11, 2021
An odd position for a human rights org
A layperson might expect one of the best known human rights organizations in the world to celebrate the acquittal of over a thousand innocent people charged with “crimes” such as reporting on massacres in a way that displeased the government, hospital workers treating the regime’s victims, or calling Añez a “dictator” in WhatsApp conversations. Yet HRW strongly supported the coup as it was taking place, insisting that President Evo Morales was actually “resigning” of his own accord, and merely “traveling to Mexico” rather than fleeing at the barrel of a gun.
HRW’s executive director, Ken Roth, made a series of public statements on social media expressing his delight, even as security forces took over La Paz, massacring civilians and overthrowing a democratically-elected president. Roth also described the coup approvingly as an “uprising” and a “transitional moment” for Bolivia, while presenting Morales as an out-of-touch “strongman.” For Roth, Morales was “the casualty of a counter-revolution aimed at defending democracy…against electoral fraud and his own illegal candidacy,” falsely allegingthat Morales had ordered the army to shoot protesters.
As Roth was making his pronouncements, Añez was signing a new law that gave security forces complete immunity for killing dissenters. HRW described this as a “problematic decree,” as if Añez had merely used insensitive language. The organization also attempted to hide who were the perpetrators of the ensuing massacres, telling readers that “nine people died and 122 were wounded” during a Cochabamba demonstration, but refusing to fill them in on who was dying and who was shooting.
Even in yesterday’s 2,800-word report, published 16 months after the incident, the word “coup” is completely absent. Instead, HRW states (emphasis added) that Morales “was forced to resignon November 10, 2019, after the commanders of the armed forces and the police asked him to step down.” Morales, however, made it clear at the time that he was leaving only to avoid a bloodbath.
HRW also continues to describe Añez as the “interim president” — her own, propagandistic word for her role — rather than “dictator,” and maintains that Morales’s election was “controversial” because of “allegations of electoral fraud.” This is despite the fact that the allegations were immediately debunked by independent statisticians. Last month, HRW demanded that Donald Trump be prosecuted because he promoted false theories of a “stolen election” in the U.S. Yet, in Bolivia, HRW itself is doing exactly the same thing — and based on just as shaky evidence.
Featured image: Masked police detain a supporter of Evo Morales after they launched tear gas at a massive funeral procession that was marching into La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 21, 2019. Photo | AP