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New Indigenous Community Justice Sanctions Criticized in Bolivia

An indigenous community in Bolivia made headlines in November after it was announced that physical harm could be punishment for crimes.
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One indigenous community in Bolivia made headlines in early November after it was announced that, in their district, thieves would have a hand cut off after the 3rd or 4th arrest and that rapists “caught in the act” would receive chemical castration.

But these drastic measures may not go into effect even though indigenous communities have been given rights to impose traditional justice from the Bolivian Constitution.

National indigenous leaders in Bolivia have rejected the dramatic new sanctions created by that indigenous community in El Alto, the Qhapaq Uma Suya of La Paz, asserting that the new laws are not approved by their largest organization nor are they legal in Bolivia.

Felix Becerra, a leader of the National Council for Ayllu and Marka Peoples of the Qullasuyu that represents Quechua and Aymara peoples of the western highlands and central valleys, stated in mid November that the Qhapaq Uma Suya of La Paz group was suspended from the National Council for its intention to divide the larger organization.

“It’s a proposal that corresponds with a sector that was not recognized by the rank and file and is now suspended,” Becerra said in a press statement.

Along with the refutation by the National Council the sanctions have been strongly criticized by the Deputy Minister of Indigenous Justice of the Bolivian Government, Isabel Ortega.

“Definitely, neither the Political Constitution of the State, nor the Law of Jurisdictional Demarcation establishes these types of sanctions, which are out of place and should not be allowed,” Ortega asserted.

“While the Magna Carta defends the principles of due process,” Ortega continued, “neither castration nor the amputation of hands are admissible, because we are signatories to international conventions on the defense of human rights that all citizens of Bolivia must respect.”

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Ortega also indicated that the Demarcation Law stated that all jurisdictions must respect, promote and guarantee the rights guaranteed in the Bolivian Constitution, and that indigenous jurisdictions did not include the right to impose sanctions against rape, murder or assassinations.

Carmelo Titirico, leader of the Qhapaq Uma Suya of La Paz, located near the city of El Alto, made the original public announcement on November 7th about the application of “community justice.”

He first explained that his territory, known as the Julian Apaza marka was located on the outskirts of El Alto and that their council was the first indigenous community tribunal developed in the nation. The Bolivian Constitution and the related Law of Jurisdictional Demarcation allow indigenous communities to develop laws and sanctions regarding certain situations.

Titirico stated that the community’s tribunal was made up of three men and three women and that the sanctions were approved by their community. Not long after these announcements Titirico responded to the official warnings about the legality of the community justice sanctions.

“We have proposed chemical castration for rapists. They can say it’s unconstitutional but we are going to respect life, as the Constitution says, because we are not going to kill, we are going to work with chemical castration and for the thieves who have stolen 3 or 4 times we are going to amputate a hand, this to establish a precedent and it will not occur any further,” Tirico asserted.

He also said that, “…the criminals just fill up the prisons and it is a cost for the State. Because of that we are going to apply a justice that is simple, easy and quick.”

Tirico also said that indigenous justice is managed in a different way, “…not within four walls like the ordinary way. We are not going to put people in jail in these cases.”

By early December there were no reports on whether the Qhapaq Uma Suya of La Paz community had enforced any of their announced sanctions.