The Bolivian government says it will negotiate with an indigenous group that apparently lynched four police officers on May 23. Government rights ombudsman Rolando Villena said he was travelling to the southern department of Potosí to try to convince the group to hand over the officers’ bodies. An assembly of “Ayllus Guerreros” (generally translated as “Warrior Clans,” although ayllu is perhaps better rendered as “community”) has declared the local municipality of Uncía a “zona roja,” and are barring authorities from entering to search for the bodies.
The Ayllus Guerreros have thrown up roadblocks on highways leading to Uncía, and say they are acting under “justicia indígena originaria”, as permitted in the new Bolivian constitution. The government is not recognizing the killings as a legitimate form of indigenous justice. National police authorities say the killings were retaliation for the destruction of a local cocaine laboratory.
The slain officers were members of the Directorate for the Prevention and Investigation of Vehicle Theft (DIPROVE), and were taken captive last weekend in the Quechua community of Cala Cala. It is not known how they were killed, but the remains are believed to have been buried in Cala Cala and the neighboring community of Saca Saca. Community leaders accused the DIPROVE officers of taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of stolen cars from neighboring Chile. “Brothers, we did not kill police officers, we killed thieves disguised as police officers,” one local leader told a community gathering.
Wives and other surviving kin of the slain officers have appealed to president Evo Morales for help. Eighteen relatives had earlier travelled to the area where the killings took place, but were reportedly warned they too would be killed if they proceeded further. (BBC News, Télam, Argentina, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, May 28; EFE, Correo del Sur, Sucre, May 27; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Radio Fides, Bolivia, May 26)
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Bolivia: bill reins in indigenous justice
Bolivian lawmakers on last month approved a bill placing firm restrictions on indigenous traditional justice, responding to public indignation over the lynchings of allegedly corrupt police in Aymara communities. President Evo Morales said he would sign the measure into law, despite protests from some indigenous groups.
While authorizing indigenous courts to deal with matters “historically and traditionally subject to their norms,” the legislation explicitly bans such tribunals from dealing with criminal offenses or issues relating to natural resources, other thsn apportioning land within the community.
The indigenous courts will be barred from passing judgment over non-indigenous defendants, and must instead hand them over to the state justice system. The text also bars indigenous courts from substituting traditional conciliation process for formal legal processes in instances of violence against women and children.
Noting that the same 2009 constitution which recognizes the role of traditional justice also bans the death penalty, the bill says “lynching is a violation of human right, it is not permitted in any jurisdiction and must be prevented and punished by the state.” (EFE, Dec. 18)