Andean Information Network
On October 8, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed the “Law against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination” (O45) into effect. Despite protests from journalists across the country, the Bolivian Legislative Assembly passed the law without modifying contested articles 16 and 23, which outline potential penalties for members of the media who publish racist or discriminatory ideas
While the majority of national and international criticism has focused on how this law might potentially limit freedom of speech in Bolivia, the measure’s twenty-four articles go far beyond simply regulating the media to combat racism and discrimination in all public and private institutions. International accords on racism and discrimination provide the foundation to address the long history of these problems in Bolivia.
The Bolivian representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR), Denis Racicot, declared support for this new law, but has cautioned the Bolivian government to implement these changes carefully and gradually, and concentrate on resolving the current dispute with the Bolivian press. It remains to be seen how the Morales administration will address the current conflict. Law 045 has the potential to bring much needed change to Bolivia, but its stipulations and penalties must be clearly defined and sensibly executed to quell the current conflict. Furthermore, press protests about the possible prosecution under the law fail to recognize, that, when accused, clauses in Article 23 allow the offender to formally apologize for racist or discriminatory insults to avoid penalties. The media should work with the MAS administration to ensure that penalties for the press are appropriate to the violation (e.g. community service over prison sentences) and do not limit free speech. Furthermore, Bolivian law has placed limits on freedom of the press since the passage of the Press Law in 1925. This new legislation includes racism and discrimination as additional limitations.