December 2, 2020 — When she was only 16 years old, Brisa De Angulo was repeatedly raped by an older cousin.  When she summoned the courage to report the violence, she was met with hostility and challenges to her character from police, medical officers, judges, and other court personnel. Brisa’s family was threatened, their home set on fire, and attempts were made to run them over with cars while the police made no attempt to ensure their safety.  

At the conclusion of the first of several trials in Brisa’s case, the judge sentenced Brisa’s perpetrator to a shorter sentence because Brisa was an adolescent at the time of the crime.  Brisa endured two additional lengthy trials in Bolivia over the course of several years, but ultimately, her perpetrator was allowed to flee the country, and has still not been brought to justice.  Her case is emblematic for two reasons: (1) it exemplifies the difficulties that adolescent victims of sexual violence face in accessing justice in Bolivia, and particularly for crimes of incest which carry significant stigma; and (2) it portrays the culture of violence against women and its impunity in the region.

HHR, together with a human rights organization, Equality Now, and other prominent human rights defenders, represented Brisa in a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”), which was filed in 2012.  Created in 1959 by the 35-nation Organization of American States to promote and defend human rights in the Americas, the Commission is the gateway to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the “Inter-American Court”).  After careful review of petitions and evidence presented to it, the Commission drafts a final report and recommendation on whether a matter should be heard by the Inter-American Court.  This process can take up to a decade and sometimes longer.

In August 2017, HHR filed its merits brief before the Commission arguing that the government of Bolivia should be held accountable for, amongst other things, the lack of protection afforded to Brisa, the failure to investigate and punish the perpetrator in Brisa’s case, and the failure to implement legislation that appropriately protects the rights of women and girls.

On July 17, the Commission issued its report and recommendations in favor of Brisa, finding that Bolivia violated her human rights.  The Commission also submitted her case to the Inter-American Court, which can order governments to investigate crimes, compensate victims, and reform or implement legislative or administrative measures. 

In its report, the Commission concluded that the Bolivian government did not carry out an effective investigation into Brisa’s complaint.  The Commission also determined that, during the investigation and prosecution, Bolivian officials did not take the necessary measures to prevent additional re-traumatization, and the proceedings were not conducted in an appropriate manner given Brisa’s age and gender.

The Commission recommended that the Bolivian government provide Brisa full reparations, including health care for her rehabilitation and to continue the investigation and criminal proceeding.  The Commission also recommended that Bolivia adopt legal reforms to ensure the proper training for officials who come in contact with victims of sexual violence.

The Inter-American Court has now completed its preliminary review of the case and is expected to convene a hearing in 2021.

Brisa has been advocating for adolescent victims in Bolivia since she was 17 and, in 2004, founded A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which provides free and comprehensive services to child survivors of sexual violence.  Brisa was named a “CNN Hero” in April 2018 for her efforts. 

Bolivia has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in Latin America, with one in every three girls experiencing sexual violence before the age of 18.  Victims often face insurmountable barriers when trying to access justice. Brisa hopes that a decision from the Inter-American Court will force Bolivia to make significant changes in its justice system and laws, and enable her and other advocates to push for meaningful advances in the protections afforded to women and girls in the country.  She also hopes that the decision will have an impact on regional laws and practice, which too often fail to protect women and girls from sexual violence.

Elizabeth Solander, Diego Durán de la Vega, Shayda Vance, Alex Bedrosyan, and Alyssa Johnson represent Brisa.  Others who have contributed to Brisa’s case include HHR alums Scott Christensen, Sarah Cave and Susie Park.