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When The State Murders, The Leaders Must Face Justice By Owei Lakemfa

August 27, 2021

To kill a protester is in almost all cases, a conspiracy. So, the soldier or state security man behind the trigger, his officer that deployed him or gave the order and the political head or the Commander-in-Chief on whose table the buck stops, are all liable for the murder of the protester.

JEANINE Anez, 54, lawyer, journalist, politician and Bolivian mother of two, attempted suicide, Saturday, August 21, 2021. Anez, while in prison cut her lower arms. But doctors quickly came to the  rescue ensuring she lives, and hopefully, faces the charges of genocide against her. 

She  attempted to take her life, a day after Bolivian  Attorney General, Juan Lanchipa, announced charges of genocide against her for the murder of 36 Bolivian protesters killed in 2019 while she was President.  

The charges filed against her are: “provisionally classified as genocide, serious and minor injury and injury followed by death”.  Anez, arrested in March 2021 on accusations of leading a coup, also faces charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy.

She was a senator representing Beni Constituency and was second vice president of the Senate which placed her fifth in line to then President Evo Morales. On  November 10, 2019,  following protests in some urban centres against the presidential election, the military and police chiefs executed a coup.


The coup plotters forced President Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, Senate President Adriana Salvatiera Arriaza and his Deputy, Rubén Medinaceli to resign. Then on November 12, 2021, they  imposed Anez as President of the country. She was a dictator without a vice president but with a castrated parliament from which two thirds of the members had been forced to flee by the plotters.

Anti-coup protesters flooded the streets demanding that Anez steps down and democracy be restored.  To stem the tide of the protests, three days into her rule, she issued a repressive Decree 4078 which stated in Article 3 that: “The personnel of the Armed Forces who participated in operations to restore internal order and public stability will be exempted from criminal liability when, in compliance with their constitutional functions, they acted in legitimate defence or state of necessity, in observance of the principles of legality, absolute necessity and proportionality.”

Assured of immunity from prosecution, that same day, armed security forces shot live bullets at the protesters. In Sacaba, nine protesters were killed and 17 injured. Eleven of the victims had bullet holes. In subsequent shootings, especially in the Senkata and Yapacani districts, more Bolivians were shot dead with a total official body count of 36 dead across the country. The murdered were, like ousted President Morales, indigenous people.

On  December 10, 2019 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ACHR, which investigated the shootings said in its preliminary report that: “It is appropriate to describe these events as massacres, given the number of people who lost their lives in the same way and at the same time and place, and because the acts in question were committed against a specific group of people.

Furthermore, the patterns of injuries that have been recorded point strongly to extrajudicial killing practices”. The  ACHR “reminded the Bolivian state that lethal force cannot be used merely to maintain or restore public order.”  Hundreds of Bolivians who opposed the regime were thrown into detention, the press was repressed and a state of fear imposed.

Although her government was recognised by countries like Russia, United States, Canada, Brazil and the European Union, the groundswell of popular opposition could not allow her regime to hold on to power for long. The regime called snap elections, but no sooner had her campaigns began than she realised that she had no chance whatsoever of being elected and that the opposition MAS Party of former President Evo Morales was cruising to a landslide victory. She withdrew from  the contest  and the elections were won by Morales protégée Luis Arce. On November 8, 2020, Anez left office.

On March 12, 2021, the Bolivian Attorney General’s Office issued an arrest warrant for her, five members of her government and military officers: Admiral Palmiro Jarjuri, Jorge Gonzalo Terceros and Gonzalo Mendieta, for conspiracy, sedition and terrorism. Next morning, she was arrested. It is her effort not to be held liable for her actions in office, including the massacre of protesters, that saw her attempt suicide.

The events in Bolivia remind me of the case of Nicolae  Ceaucescu, the Rumanian leader who was on  December 25, 1989 put on trial with his wife, Elena, over the killing of people protesting against his government. 

Interestingly, when the massacres were going on, Ceaucescu was out of the country. He returned to try to take charge, lost control and was apprehended.

The charges against him were genocide, subversion of state power by organising armed actions against the people and state power,  destruction of public property, undermining the national economy and trying to flee the country. 

The entire trial took one hour with Ceaucescu arguing that it was a coup and that the tribunal was unconstitutional. The trial was clearly premeditated and the couple was executed. The point here is not the transparency of the trial, it is more the issue that a leader can be held accountable for the killing of protesters even if he is outside the country.

The United States came close to a situation of the state taking the lives of protesters when in June 2020, then President Donald Trump decided to use the 1807 Insurrection Act to supress the Black Lives Matter protests over the murder of George Floyd, a Black by a White Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.

However, Defence Secretary Mark Esper  saved the situation when he rejected Trump’s moves. He said: “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.”

My position is that the right of a citizen or any human to publicly protest his feelings are fundamental. Whether the protest is for or against the state, the government has a duty to protect the protester. To endanger or take the life of a protester is a mortal crime for which the political leadership must pay.  

It is not enough to say a protester was being unruly or disturbing public peace; if those are crimes, they cannot be capital crimes for which a life can be taken. That a protester wields a lethal weapon such as a slogan; a bomb such as an offensive t-shirt or a machine gun such as a banner, does not make him a criminal that should be detained, imprisoned or despatched from the earth.

To kill a protester is in almost all cases, a conspiracy. So, the soldier or state security man behind the trigger, his officer that deployed him or gave the order and the political head or the Commander-in-Chief on whose table the buck stops, are all liable for the murder of the protester.