CEDIB Bolivia: Access to information is a human right too

You can’t win a case without solid evidence. Bolivia’s Documentation and Information Centre (CEDIB), helps in the fight against environmental abuses and violations of indigenous human rights. Oscar campanini, researcher at CEDIB,  explains how in a country where critical media outlets are under pressure, CEDIB’s reports and documentation are providing key evidence to get these issues on the international agenda.

The result of sound research

‘The Bolivian government has withheld most information on their mining projects in recent years, so people don’t know how companies interpret legislation or acquire rights,’ says Campanini, a researcher at CEDIB. This is a problem for people who want to protect their farms and their region, or make a case against the government. But every now and then a newspaper will divulge a snippet of information, a fact or a report. By documenting such references, CEDIB provides a starting point for further investigation, which then allows them and other NGOs to dive deeper into a topic.

CEDIB considers freedom of and access to information a human right. At the same time, quality standards are essential. ‘It’s not enough to be critical; criticism has to be the result of sound research – you have to back it up,’ says Campanini. ‘We need solid evidence to get these issues on the international agenda.’

It is difficult to express criticism

Campanini first came in contact with CEDIB during the heyday of the cocalero movement – a time when indigenous farmers were protesting against the government’s use of military force and pressing for economic reforms. He explains, ‘At that time the government was taking a hard line against critical organisations that reported on national issues. It was difficult to express criticism. Many remained silent on ongoing issues like extraction of natural resources.’ Yet CEDIB remained critical. ‘In CEDIB people were free to say what they thought and express criticism – it was difficult to find that space in other organisations.’

On the agenda

One recent success story is the way CEDIB secured evidence of deforestation in Bolivia and violations of indigenous human rights. Together with the Green Livelihoods Alliance, civil society organisations like the Dutch branch of IUCN and with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CEDIB presented this evidence to the UN. In the Universal Periodic Review of each UN member state’s human rights record, CEDIB – with support from its partners – and other organisations have got human rights violations in Bolivia on the international agenda. This success resulted from two years’ work documenting environmental and human rights abuses.

‘We don’t just collect information and data; we also have long experience of communicating it to the public,’ says Campanini. ‘We know how to spread information and foster public debate. By working with civil society and governments, we can lift the debate to where it matters.’