Lawmakers in Bolivia´s lower house of Congress on June 8 approved a new law to require the state to recognize indigenous communities´ justice systems and customs. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the ruling Movement to Socialism party, which strongly supported the bill, has a two-thirds majority.
The recognition of indigenous justice follows the line of the newly-implemented Constitution, which declared Bolivia a plurinational state.
But opposition lawmakers and officials argue that the measure could lead to violence and mob law, in the wake of several lynchings that they say will be sanctioned by the government if the law is definitively passed.
Members of an indigenous community in the Potosi province in late May said they lynched four police officers for allegedly accepting bribes so that cars from neighboring Chile could pass through the area.
Opposition lawmakers held up a sign that said “Stop the cruel killings in the name of native justice,” local media reported.
Two weeks after the police officers were killed a 51-year-old man in the same region was lynched, who had been accused of raping a woman and of theft.
But while far from the norm, these violent cases have opened a debate on indigenous justice and whether the state should regulate it.
The foundation of Rigoberta Menchú Tum, an indigenous leader and winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, said that in Guatemala, her native country where some 40 percent of the population is indigenous and engaged in a constant struggle for their customs to be recognized by the state, violent acts such as these “are a product of desperation of the communities´ that have been abandoned by the state.”
Communities in Ecuador and Peru have also long fought for their native customs and justice to be recognized by the state.