April 1, 2022 – Earlier this week, an HHR pro bono team led a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in the case of Brisa De Angulo Losada v. Bolivia, a groundbreaking case on sexual violence in Bolivia. This case provides the IACtHR with the opportunity to expand and deepen jurisprudence on sexual violence against children and adolescents, particularly in cases of incest. It began in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights over a decade ago and the hearing was the culmination of years of effort to hold the State accountable for its actions. 

At the age of 16, Brisa was repeatedly sexually abused by an older cousin. When she summoned the courage to report the abuse, she faced hostility and challenges to her character from police, medical officers, judges and other court personnel, who questioned whether she could have been raped because she had such a “strong personality.” The forensic exam was conducted by a doctor, accompanied by several male students, who forced Brisa to take off her clothes and laughed at her when she cried, asking for the examination to stop. The prosecutor accused Brisa of lying and said she would ruin her family by reporting the rape by an older cousin. The judge in her case suggested this was a “family matter” and reprimanded Brisa when she began to cry during her testimony. Her family was threatened, their home was set on fire and attempts were made on their lives while the State made no attempt to ensure their safety.

The case alleges violations of Brisa’s human rights under the American Convention of Human Rights, to which Bolivia is a signatory. Bolivia effectively denied Brisa justice after she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an adult family member and became an active participant in her suffering by re-victimizing her throughout the process. As expert Sylvia Mesa Peluffo testified at the hearing, secondary victimization at the hands of the State can often be as or even more traumatizing than the underlying sexual assault.      

In cases before the Inter-American Court, victims often request reparations in the form of compensation or psycho-social support. Instead, Brisa chose to ask that the State take concrete steps towards improving the situation of sexual violence in Bolivia. In a bold move, her legal team asked for specific changes to Bolivia’s legislation, including revisions to the current rape law, which requires a showing of “violence or intimidation” to prove the crime of rape. The team also requested that the statute of limitations for rape be eliminated and for the State to enact new laws that specifically target crimes of sexual violence within the family. During the hearing, the judges asked many questions to better understand these proposed legislative reforms, which suggested an openness to these measures.

Elizabeth Solander, Diego Durán de la Vega, Shayda Vance, Alex Bedrosyan and Alyssa Johnson represented De Angulo at the hearing, which took place on March 29 and 30. Vance and Johnson delivered part of the oral argument, while Durán de la Vega questioned the Commission’s expert witness and delivered the rebuttal to Bolivia’s oral argument. The court is expected to issue a decision later this year.

Equality Now has published a press release on the case, and the hearing can be viewed on YouTube.