International Day of Non-Violence

Actualizado: may 2

Today the world celebrates the International Day of Non-Violence based on the UN General Assembly Resolution 61/271. The day is organised to educate and raise awareness of the culture of peace and the philosophy of non-violence, as well as toleration and understanding between people. The celebration is very crucial this year as hatred and violence – especially gender-based violence, intra-prison violence and torture – are still prevalent worldwide despite efforts to curb them. In Bolivia, the situation is highly alarming and the message of non-violence is desperately desired as the levels of violence are very high.

The article will start by first analysing the background and importance of the day. Here the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, the concepts of non-violence and culture of peace, and the global situation of violence will be discussed. Secondly, the Bolivian situation will be examined. Here the focus will be on gender-based violence, intra-prison violence, state violence and torture. Finally, ITEI’s efforts to reduce violence and to build a culture of peace will be reviewed.

Background of the Non-Violence Day

The day is commemorated on the world-known human rights activist and Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Gandhi was the pioneer of the philosophy of non-violence, Satyagraha, which has influenced numerous social movements and human rights leaders around the world. He despised violence with a passion and hence based his form of resistance on the values of peace, love, truth, morality and good doing. Gandhi’s exact impact on the world is impossible to measure because his legacy still lives strongly as the innovator and leader of the resistance against colonialism, racism and violence. Nonetheless, the world would certainly be a far worse place without Mahatma Gandhi.

Most importantly, non-violence rejects the use of physical violence in any form and situation – even if it is to achieve positive ends or to protect oneself. Beyond this vital belief, there are multiple more extensive understandings of what non-violence and non-violent struggle are. The two most famous descriptions of non-violence are by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. – an American civil rights campaigner. The Gandhian principles of non-violence include respect, understanding, being truthful, valuing differences and embracing suffering. MLK's principles include holding tightly to the justness of the cause, targeting to defeat the injustice without harming the evildoers, accepting suffering without retaliating, aiming to conquer hate with love and believing that in the end justice will win. In summary, the philosophy of non-violence consists of facing evil with love, embracing sufferance and being truthful to your cause.

Another important concept that the International Day of Non-Violence attempts to promote is a culture of peace. This concept builds upon non-violence but it is a much broader concept as it includes many further qualitative aspects. There are many definitions for it but the starting point should be that the culture of peace is essentially an alternative for the culture of war and violence. To overcome the culture of war and violence and to accomplish the culture of peace many actions are needed. The ingredients of peace include education, sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, democracy, toleration and freedom of speech. These are all essential for achieving sustainable peace.

Violence worldwide

In 2016, around 560 000 people were killed violently worldwide – 385 000 in intentional homicides, 100 000 in armed conflicts and the rest in other ways. The numbers mean that every minute one person is killed worldwide. The levels of violence have not significantly increased nor decreased in the last years, indicating a strong persistence and deep roots of violence in our societies. Violence is one of the leading causes of deaths for the 15-44 year-olds – with 14% of the male and 7% of the female deaths caused by violence. On top of causing deaths, violence inflicts severe physical injuries and psychological problems. Hence, it is clear that reducing violence worldwide should be an immensely important objective.

One of the most persistent forms of violence is gender-based violence (GBV). Indeed, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. Most of this violence is perpetrated by intimate partners, as 30% of women have experienced violence in intimate relationships. While levels of violence have long stayed approximately the same, the violence against women has increased lately: 48 000 femicides in 2012, compared to 87 000 femicides in 2017. Gender-based violence derives fundamentally from faulty gender norms and worldwide gender inequality. GBV has severe impacts on women and society at large. These include physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, negative consequences on the children and communities around, as well as high economic costs for the whole society.

Intra-prison violence is enormous, yet a largely dismissed global problem. Research estimates that yearly approximately 20% of the prisoners have experienced violence by other inmates and 25% by the prison staff. However, the real numbers are likely much bigger because prison violence goes often unnoticed and unreported. This is because it happens in secrecy and the victims remain silent due to the fear of retaliation. Violence is much more common in prisons than in civilian life, as the rates of physical assaults are over 20 times higher. This is highly problematic for multiple reasons. First, intra-prison violence is a direct violation of the prisoners’ human rights to live free from violence and its threat. Also, it worsens the reintegration chances because witnessing violence increases the chances of the person to become violent. Thirdly, violence causes various psychological issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, grievances and emotional fatigue.

Torture is a highly atrocious, yet very prevalent, form of violence practised in the majority of the world’s countries. Indeed, Amnesty International reports that torture exists in 141 countries and is systematically used in almost 100 countries. While almost all countries have laws in place to criminalise torture, these do not mean much in practice. In fact, many governments use torture as a governance tool and many others just completely dismiss it. Torture is especially widespread against pre-trial detainees as the authorities use it to force confessions or acquire information. Furthermore, torture is also used to intimidate and punish. The consequences of torture are devastating – suffering, mental and physical pain, long-term psychological issues and negative impacts on the families and communities of the victims.

Situation in Bolivia

Bolivia has very high levels of violence as its homicide rate is almost three times higher than the global average. Especially, gender-based violence prevails in Bolivia: the country has one of the world’s highest amounts of violence against women. A vast majority of this violence is inflicted by intimate partners. Altogether, 60% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their partners during relationships. Moreover, the amount of violence and rapes committed by the police and security authorities is very high – especially against female prisoners, accused and sex workers. While there are laws against gender-based violence, 2/3 of the cases are dismissed and only 1% of the remaining result in a conviction. Besides, a huge quantity of incidents are not reported in the first place due to financial reasons, shame, fear, lack of public aid and long court trials – on average a domestic violence case is solved in three years. All in all, Bolivia is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women.

Prison security is very low and intra-prison violence highly common in Bolivia. According to ITEI’s research, around half of the prisoners have faced violence during their imprisonment. Questionnaires carried out in three prisons indicated that over half (55%) of the prisoners have experienced violence by other inmates and 39% by the prison staff. The levels of psychological violence are even higher. Almost two thirds (64%) have experienced psychological violence by fellow inmates and a half (49%) by the security guards. Furthermore, the levels of violence might be much higher because numerous cases go unreported and most victims remain silent due to fear of retaliation. Intra-prison violence is largely unrestrained due to the security guards’ indifference towards it and incapability – lack of personnel, training and funding – to curb it. Moreover, violence – especially sexual harassment and assaults – against female prisoners is systematic. For example, in the prisons shared by male and female prisoners, many women are forced to pay extortion fees to avoid being raped. In a nutshell, prisons in Bolivia are alarmingly more violent than the already violent civilian society.

State violence and torture are widespread and persistent in Bolivia. Forms of state violence – such as torture, illegal killings, assaults and intimidations against journalists, civil society members, political opponents and other ‘enemies of the state’ – have a long history in Bolivia. These methods are employed by the authorities due to their intolerance for opposing voices and the obsession of finding ‘culprits’ with any means possible. Torture is facilitated by the fact that the laws against it are very soft and virtually no state officials have ever been punished for torture. Furthermore, torture is essentially utilised by the police and security guards as a form of “investigation technique”. In 2014 alone, la Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman), reported 2557 cases of torture, ill-treatment and other violations of personal integrity in Bolivia – although ITEI and other organisations have reported many additional cases.

ITEI’s project to promote non-violence

ITEI is currently running "Prevención de la Violencia Intracarcelaria" project to reduce intra-prison violence and spread a message of non-violence in three prisons of La Paz. The goal of the project is to change the prevailing violent mentalities, culture and behavioural norms to consist of non-violent values – compassion, dialogue and acceptance of difference. The project includes workshops educating prisoners on various crucial topics, such as conflict resolution, toleration, respect, cooperation and many other themes related to the concepts of non-violence and the culture of peace. Moreover, the project has a strong gender dimension as the Rules of Bangkok are heavily featured in the workshops. The workshops aim to reduce violence against women by engaging with topics of gender equality, sexual violence and intra-family violence and changing the gendered viewpoints of the participants. Furthermore, the police, security guards and other members of the prison staff also attend the workshops to learn about the prisoners’ rights and the rules of humane prison treatment. Here, the focus is specifically on eradicating torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Overall, the project has achieved very positive results so far. For example, it has enhanced understanding, toleration and communication within and between the prisoners and staff; and changed attitudes, ways of behaviour and emotional control of the prisoners. Yet most importantly, the project has achieved a shared commitment among the prisoners and staff to the prevention of violence.

2nd of October 2019

Valtteri Nurminen, ITEI Volunteer

Edificio V Centenario #2006 Piso 1 Of. A. Tel: 591 2 - 2154094


La Paz - Bolivia

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