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UN rights chief says Bolivia indigenous people facing continued discrimination

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay [official profile] warned Wednesday that, despite the Bolivian government's reforms, most indigenous people and other vulnerable groups continue to suffer from extreme poverty and exclusion [press release]. Pillay commended progress [UN News Centre report] by the Bolivian government in adopting reforms to end discrimination while voicing concerns over the lack of access to justice, particularly in rural communities. Noting various advances, Pillay commended several social programs adopted by the Bolivian government, particularly ones aimed at alleviating poverty and exclusion. Pillay suggested that "the soundest nation-building is one that takes into full account and promotes the rights of all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, culture, sex, age, class or language." Pillay's comments come after her first visit to the country, where she spent five days talking to President Evo Morales [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile] and other key government officials. In addition, Pillay met with indigenous representatives and authorities, torture victims, and representatives from the Afro-Bolivian community.

The UN reported last year that the indigenous people of Bolivia and Paraguay are often forced into labor and face discrimination [press release], severe poverty and violence, urging the two countries to take action in order to protect the human rights of these groups. In October, Morales signed a controversial bill [text, PDF; in Spanish] into law that permits the government to punish media outlets for publishing racist content [JURIST report]. The legislation comes as part of a wider campaign by Morales to advance the interests of the majority indigenous community, which has been a theme of his presidency [JURIST report]. In June, the Bolivian National Congress approved legislation to create an independent justice system [JURIST report] for indigenous communities. Bolivia's new constitution [PDF text, in Spanish] took effect [JURIST report] in February 2009, giving more power to the country's indigenous majority. Morales said that the charter represented a new beginning, by providing for redistribution of land and natural resource revenues [JURIST report], the creation of congressional seats reserved for indigenous representatives and the institution of special courts for some indigenous communities.

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