The long road to comprehensive reparations in Bolivia  

Flaviano Unzueta speaks to national authorities and OHCHR on the right of victims to reparations during a regional meeting in Cochabamba department, in Bolivia. © Gloria Moronta/OHCHR

Between 1964 and 1982, a series of military coups and dictatorships in Bolivia resulted in the murder, torture, disappearance or exile of hundreds of people. Political repression touched every sector of society, but it was especially hard on mine workers and university students.

Flaviano Unzueta was one of those university students. His activism began as a young student leader. “I graduated from university in 1970. Since they knew I was a leader, they persecuted me and raided my house,” he recalls.

Then, in 1980, he was arrested. “I was persecuted and I was tortured in different detention centres. The ICRC and the Episcopal Conference managed to get me abroad as an exile. I spent two years in Venezuela as a political refugee, only to return to Bolivia, on 10 October 1982, just when the democratic phase began,” Unzueta explains.

In the following decades, he has tirelessly advocated for reparations to be paid to those who suffered human rights violations during the dictatorships. In 2004, as president of the National Union of Victims of Political Violence (UNAVIPO), he participated in a collective hunger strike that led to the adoption of Law No. 2640. Although the Law provided for partial economic compensation for 1,714 victims, it was controversial as 80 per cent of the funds were reportedly to be paid by external sources instead of the Bolivian State. Further, many victims claimed they were not properly registered, which left them without access to compensation.

Since 2021, the OHCHR Technical Mission in Bolivia has worked with the State to develop a comprehensive reparations policy for victims of serious human rights violations. It also organized meetings to discuss different options and sought the active participation of the victims in the process.

“The State is responsible for providing reparations. [This] is an important step forward and we believe we will reach a successful conclusion…as long as the UN continues to support the victims of political violence,” says Unzueta.

“Comprehensive reparations include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. While countries may differ in the way they implement some of these measures, it is essential that they follow international standards and recommendations,” said Antonio Menéndez de Zubillaga, Chief of the OHCHR Mission in Bolivia.

In July 2022, the Government enacted Law No. 1446 to allocate the outstanding compensation to victims of political violence. On Human Rights Day (10 December), the Ministry of Justice announced that the reparations policy would be implemented.

Unzueta and members of his organization hope this new commitment to the payment of reparations will in turn lead to an acknowledgement of the full impact the dictatorships had on the lives of thousands of Bolivians. OHCHR will continue to raise awareness and review former files to encourage more victims to come forward.

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