IACHR Thematic Hearing on Adolescent Victims of Sexual Violence in Bolivia - Equality Now
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IACHR Thematic Hearing on Adolescent Victims of Sexual Violence in Bolivia

In May 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 172 Period of Sessions in Kingston, Jamaica. Equality Now and several of our Bolivian partner organizations testified at an impactful hearing.

On May 3 - 10 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 172 Period of Sessions in Kingston, Jamaica. Equality Now and several of our Bolivian partner organizations, including the Coordinadora de la Mujer, the Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensas de los Derechos de las Mujeres (CLADEM), Oficina Jurídica de la Mujer (the Legal Office for Women), Centro una Brisa de Esperanza, the Breeze of Hope Foundation,  the Red de Niños, Niñas, y Adolescentes contra la violencia sexual (Network of Boys, Girls, and Adolescents Against Sexual Violence), and Rutgers Law School, and The Healthy Family Foundation (FAMISAL)  held an impactful hearing on Access to Justice for Adolescent Victims of Sexual Violence in Bolivia. You can see it here in Spanish and English.

The hearing followed a powerful February convening on sexual violence of young and adolescent girls in Bolivia and the emotional testimony before the IACHR from several adolescent survivors.

The Issue

Despite making numerous international commitments to ensure women and girls are free from sexual violence, Bolivia has one of the region’s highest rates of sexual violence against women and children. It also has one of the lowest reporting rates due to the  insurmountable barriers these girls face when trying to access justice. According to a report presented by Bolivia’s Ombudsman, in the first half of 2015 alone, there were 569 reported cases of sexual violence against minors; 94% of them were against young or adolescent girls.  

Equality Now along with survivor Brisa De Angulo brought her case before the IACHR. We are specifically working to repeal a law,“estupro,” which imposes lesser penalties for perpetrators who rape 14- to 18-year-old adolescents than for those who rape a child or a woman. We are also seeking broader legal reforms to: prevent sexual assaults against girls and adolescents,   clarify the definition of sexual consent, remove the requirement to show physical or psychological violence or intimidation to prove rape and ensure victims of sexual violence are able to access justice and services. Through this case and through the hearings before the IACHR, we are working to bold set precedents that will protect young and adolescent girls from sexual violence in Bolivia and across Latin America.

The emotional testimony from several Bolivian survivors of sexual violence demanded their rights; they told Bolivia, the Commission and the world  that, despite numerous commitments to make change very little in Bolivia has actually changed; the legal, systemic and social barriers that Brisa faced 18 years ago still exist today. This is the third time since 2012 that Equality Now and our partners have presented this very same issue before the IACHR.

The Hearing before the Commission

Equality Now Americas Director Shelby Quast; Brisa De Angulo (Founder and Director of A Breeze of Hope); Karina Mancilla, a survivor and member of the Red de Niños, Niñas, y Adolescentes contra la violencia sexual; Veronica Roque the Coordinator of the Breeze of Hope Foundation; and Jinky Irusta from the Oficina Jurídica de la Mujer all testified before the Commissioners on May 8. The testimony was incredibly powerful and compelling and the Commissioners were deeply impacted, particularly by Karina’s testimony of her experience with adolescent sexual violence and the barriers to justice she faced.

"This hearing today represents the trial I couldn’t have. Today, I am not here only for me but for all girls, boys and adolescents who can’t talk. I am here for them today. I believe the system can change." - Karina

The testimony at the public thematic hearing covered specific obstacles in the law and in accessing justice for young and adolescent victims of sexual violence and how these could be overcome, as well as how to raise awareness of the issue in the country. The Attorney General of Bolivia attended the hearing and provided an update from the Government.  We have shared proposed legal changes that reflect international and regional human rights standards and the Bolivian representative agreed to review the proposed legal changes. After listening to both parties, the Commissioners again committed to fighting sexual violence of adolescents in Bolivia and pledged to work with us on the issue.

After the hearing, we all had an opportunity to provide further information to the Commissioners through testimony at the private civil society discussion. We are grateful to our pro bono partner, Hughes Hubbard, for generously financing the participation of several of our Bolivian partners, providing legal support, and attending the hearings.

What’s Next?

We will continue to work with our partners in Bolivia and the region on ending sexual violence against young and adolescent girls. We are also working on advancing Brisa’s case before the Commission.