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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation (all in Spanish)

A constitutional, multiparty democracy with an elected president and bicameral legislature, Bolivia has separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, with an attorney general independent of all three. The traditionally strong executive, however, tends to overshadow the Congress, whose role is generally limited to debating and approving legislation initiated by the executive.

Bolivia's nine departments received greater autonomy under the Administrative Decentralization law of 1995, although principal departmental officials are still appointed by the central government. Bolivian cities and towns are governed by elected mayors and councils. The most recent municipal elections took place in December 1999. The Popular Participation Law of April 1994, which distributes a significant portion of national revenues to municipalities for discretionary use, has enabled previously neglected communities to make striking improvements in their facilities and services.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Bolivian judicial system has three levels of courts: Trial court, superior court, and the Supreme Court or Constitutional Tribunal appellate review. The Supreme Court hears appeals in general, while the Constitutional Tribunal only hears appeals on constitutional issues.

The superior court review is restricted to a review of the application of the law. Supreme Court review, the third stage, is restricted to cases involving exceptional circumstances. During the superior court and Supreme Court reviews, the courts may confirm, reduce, increase, or annul sentences, or provide alternatives not contemplated in lower courts.

With the full implementation in May 2001 of the Code of Criminal Procedures (CCP), the criminal justice system changed from essentially a closed, written system to a system of transparent oral trials. The old, highly formal, and often corrupt judicial system made it difficult for poor, illiterate persons to have effective access to courts and legal redress. In addition, under the old system, inefficiency and delay could result in a lengthy judicial process or prolonged pretrial incarceration (see Section 1.d.). The CCP specifically addresses this problem by requiring that no pretrial detention exceed 18 months. In cases in which a sentence has been issued, but the case is being appealed, the maximum period of detention is 24 months.

In March 2001 the Government enacted a new Public Ministry Law to adapt the prosecutorial function of the judicial system to the requirements of the CCP. Under the new CCP, the prosecutor, instead of the judge, is in charge of the investigative stage of a case. The prosecutor instructs the police, from the perspective of a legal practitioner, as to what witness statements and evidence are needed to prosecute the case. Counternarcotics prosecutors lead the investigation of narcotics cases.

During the first stage, the prosecutor tries the case before a judge of instruction if it is a misdemeanor case (which carries a possible sentence of less than 4 years), or before sentencing courts that include three citizen judges (jurors) and two professional judges for felony cases (possible sentence of 4 years or more).

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Bolivian Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001; however, problems remain in certain areas. Legal and institutional deficiencies prevented the full protection of citizens' rights. Security forces killed 11 protesters during violent demonstrations during the year. There were a number of allegations of torture by the police and security forces, although none were confirmed independently. There were credible reports of abuses by police, including use of excessive force, petty theft, extortion, and improper arrests. Investigations of alleged official abuses were slow. Prison conditions are harsh, and violence in prisons is a problem. At times police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Denial of justice through prolonged detention due to antiquated procedures and inefficiency and corruption in the judicial system remained a serious problem, although this began to change with the full implementation in May of the new Code of Criminal Procedures (CCP). In March the Government also enacted a new Public Ministry Law to adapt the prosecutorial function of the judicial system to the requirements of the CCP. There were reports that the Government infringed on citizens' property rights and attempted to intimidate the media. Security forces injured hundreds of protesters during the year. Other problems included domestic violence and discrimination against women, abuse of children, discrimination against and abuse of indigenous people, discrimination against Afro-Bolivians, child labor, inhuman working conditions in the mining industry, and trafficking in persons.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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