Bolivia: HHR Pro Bono Team Leads Groundbreaking Human Rights Case Against Bolivia at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
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April 1, 2022 – Earlier this week, a pro bono team from HHR conducted a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in the case of Brisa De Angulo Losada c. Bolivia, an unprecedented case on sexual violence in Bolivia. This case offers the IACHR the opportunity to broaden and deepen the jurisprudence on sexual violence against children and adolescents, particularly in cases of incest. It started at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights more than a decade ago, and the hearing was the culmination of years of efforts to hold the state accountable for its actions.
At the age of 16, Brisa was repeatedly sexually abused by an older cousin. When she found the courage to report the abuse, she faced hostility and personality challenges from police, doctors, judges and other court personnel, who asked if she could have been raped because she had such a “strong personality”. The forensic examination was conducted by a doctor, accompanied by several male students, who forced Brisa to undress and laughed at her when she cried, demanding that the examination be stopped. The prosecutor accused Brisa of lying and said she would ruin her family by reporting the rape by an older cousin. The judge in her case suggested it was a “family matter” and berated Brisa when she started crying during her testimony. His family was threatened, their house burned down and assassination attempts were made while the state made no attempt to ensure their safety.
The case alleges violations of Brisa’s human rights under the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Bolivia is a signatory. Bolivia effectively denied Brisa justice after she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an adult family member and became an active participant in her suffering by re-victimizing her throughout the process. As Sylvia Mesa Peluffo, who testified at the hearing as an expert, explained, often secondary victimization at the hands of the state can be as traumatic, if not more so, than the underlying sexual assault.
In cases brought before the Inter-American Court, victims often seek reparations in the form of compensation or psychosocial support. Instead, Brisa chose to ask the state to take concrete steps to improve the situation of sexual violence in Bolivia. In a bold move, his legal team sought specific changes to Bolivian law, including revisions to the current rape law, which requires a display of “violence or intimidation” to prove the crime of rape. The team also called for the statute of limitations for rape to be removed and for the state to enact new laws specifically targeting crimes of sexual violence within the family. During the hearing, the judges asked many questions to better understand these proposals for legislative reform, which suggested an openness to these measures.
Elizabeth Solander, Diego Durán de la Vega, Shayda Vance, Alex Bedrosyan and Alyssa Johnson represented De Angulo at the hearing, which took place March 29-30. Vance and Johnson delivered part of the argument, while Durán de la Vega questioned the Commission’s expert witness and rebutted Bolivia’s argument. The court is expected to issue a decision later this year.
Equality Now issued a press release on the case and the hearing can be viewed on YouTube.
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