Bolivian Congress Puts Limits on Indian Traditional Courts

LA PAZ – Bolivian lawmakers on Friday approved a bill placing firm restrictions on indigenous traditional justice, responding to public indignation over the lynchings of allegedly corrupt police in Indian communities.

President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous head of state, said he will sign the measure into law despite protests from some Indian 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, except in the case of apportioning land within the community.

The text also bars Indian courts from substituting conciliation procedures for formal legal processes in instances of violence against women and children.

Traditional indigenous courts are likewise forbidden to sit in judgment over non-Indian defendants and must instead hand them over to the state justice system.

Noting that the same 2009 constitution which recognizes the role of traditional justice 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.”

The Aymara Indian clans in southern Bolivia who earlier this year abducted, tortured and executed four policemen they accused of corruption and murder claimed to have acted in the name of traditional justice.

The Morales administration responded by insisting that lynching is not part of traditional justice.

An indigenous lawmaker with the governing leftist MAS party said many Indian groups are in disagreement with the new legislation, seeing the bill as “quite vague.”

Some indigenous people feel the forthcoming law treats them as “minors” by denying traditional courts jurisdiction over natural resource issues within their communities, Pedro Nuni told Efe.

Indigenous peoples make up around 60 percent of Bolivia’s population.

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