2009 Country Reports on Human Rights PracticesAbout the Author: Charles Sellers serves as a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.
On March 11, 2010, the State Department released the 2009 version of the annual Human Rights Reports. Last December, in her speech at Georgetown University honoring Human Rights Week, Secretary Clinton discussed the meaning of our human rights mission. She affirmed the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which state that people must be free from the oppression of tyranny, torture, discrimination, and wrongful imprisonment, and she underscored that people must also be free from "the oppression of want -- want of food, health, education, and equality in law and in fact." Mandated by the U.S. Congress, the Human Rights Report speaks to these issues, and many more, including the right to free speech and a free press, the right to an independent judiciary and legislature, the right to a living wage, and the right to transparent, accountable, and responsive government institutions.
At Embassy La Paz, officers and locally employed staff work throughout the year to live up to this responsibility. We meet with a wide range of private citizens, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government representatives in an effort to provide a meaningful snapshot of the human rights situation in Bolivia. Much of the report is a collection of statistics and facts that dispassionately describe the human rights situation. Other sections contain information from brave people who choose to talk with us despite personal risks. Such people are the real heroes of the report, and they show that in all countries, even democracies, there can be harsh repercussions for speaking out against injustice, corruption, and discrimination. As Foreign Service officers, we travel across the country -- sometimes to remote areas -- to meet with people who otherwise would not have the chance to tell their stories.
As we prepare the report, some of the meetings -- especially with people alleging physical abuse -- can be emotionally draining. Others are politically and socially complex. Following recent elections, many in Bolivia's majority indigenous population feel they are being represented in the central government for the first time. We celebrate this change, but some complain minority voices -- in the media, judiciary, and other parts of civil society -- are being ignored in the process. We try to include both sides of the story whenever possible.
The annual Human Rights Report assures U.S. citizens that human rights are an important part of our foreign policy. The report also provides detailed information on the human rights situation in the countries with which we partner. Host countries -- including Bolivia -- do not always appreciate our unsolicited criticism. It's important to stress that our concern for human rights is not designed to create a false sense of U.S. superiority. We are equally aware of our own historical failures, even as we push to create a world where human rights violations do not exist.