January 30, 2008

The Ugly Face of Communal Justice

MABB © ®

Update: Here is an article from the Washington Post about Bolivian communal justice.

I am glad that the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is speaking out against the practice of Communal Justice in Bolivia. As you can see in these reports by HRF, it has a very ugly face:

Here is what HRF's 2007 Country Report has to say:

SYNOPSIS: Bolivia is undergoing an unprecedented process of constitutional reform driven by the executive branch. President Evo Morales, elected in December of 2005, along with supporting political parties, has proposed replacing the constitution with a national constituent assembly. Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly began its work on August 6, 2006, following the election of its deputies on July 2, 2006. Assembly deputies approved the new, 408-article constitution on December 9, 2007.1 However, opposing political parties and leaders dispute the validity of the vote, arguing that the proposed constitution was not approved by the requisite two-thirds majority. They also took issue with the fact that the text was approved not in the seat of the Assembly itself, in the city of Sucre, but in the city of Oruro, and objected that no opposition deputies from the Constituent Assembly were present at the vote. While some articles in the new constitution’s approved text guarantee due process rights, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is profoundly concerned that the new constitution grants equal standing to an alternative system of justice known as justicia comunitaria (“communal justice”). Enshrining this system within the Bolivian constitution would hinder individual rights otherwise guaranteed by both the existing constitution and international treaties to which Bolivia is signatory.

Here is a recent press release where HRF even speaks against the new MAS constitution:

Enshrining Mob Rule in Bolivia: Communal Justice and the New Constitution

LA PAZ, Bolivia (January 15, 2008) -- Lashing, crucifixion and other forms of corporal punishment would be legal in a new constitution proposed by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. Since 2005, Bolivia has seen a dramatic increase in such disturbing practices, including lynchings and torture, meted out under an informal system known as “communal justice.” Cases include death sentences for women accused of adultery and the beating, stoning, hanging, and burning of an elected official accused of corruption.

And if you didn't get enough, here is a video.



What is extremely preoccupant is that no words about these dangers are coming from human right watch groups within the country. The reason of this had to do with the fact that most, if not all this institutions, forgot their task and become an appendix of the MAS party due to the “communistic” character of their leaders. The most pathetic example of all is the APDHB, created under the wrath of military dictatorship and becoming the most influent human rights group until its president, Sacha LLorenti, become Evo Morales vice minister. That was the last drop the filled constant denounces of the partisan character of the wrongly named institution.
With a little luck, and the Human Rights Foundation decides to open a chapter in Bolivia, I would certainly be interested on participating in it.

Frank_IBC said...

This is a very scary trend, thanks for calling attention to it, Miguel.

BL - I don't recall much coverage of this issue at the DC, either.

And what's this about them losing funding from Soros?

miguel (mabb) said...

Bolivia libre: Certainly. There hasn't been many noises coming from the Bolivian human rights corner. Where are they? I thought Sacha was the one. And where is the Defensor del Pueblo?

Another reason for this silence is the scare tactics this government is using. As soon as someone opens their mouth, the government tries to hit them with whatever they can. I wonder if that is why the former defensora del pueblo, Ana Maria Campero, is so quiet.

Frank_ibc: I am not sure. I think I am in the dark about Soros' activities in these matters.


Frank, the DC is not and was never, by any means, a human rights NGO. They use the term by convenience of course. I accept it as a democracy center because there are several types of “democracies”; his idea of obtaining it through violence on the streets gives me the right to say they cannot be a Human Rights source. I don’t know if Soros had taken the financing of DC away, when I commented it in the DC page I was being sarcastic at their crying for founds, it was the first time I notice they asked for money.

Miguel, Sacha Llorenti works for Evo now; he is the main person behind the strategy to block the Santa Cruz autonomic referendum. The big problem for human rights violation exposure in the country is just that; we let Sacha become the king of the land letting his more than obvious partisanship towards MAS pass by. As soon as Evo took power he jumped to the regime’s wagon and his APDHB immediately lost any credit, unless you are a maSSist, off course.

Human right groups appear when despotic figures suffocates a country, it will take time, but new ones will appear and will canalized the several breakages of human rights already denounced. I don’t think a large, well financed group will come to the country, they never came, not even during military dictatorship; they will be groups rising within our own country.

miguel (mabb) said...

Sorry guys, I am in the dark here. I don't know what DC stands for.

galloglass said...

Jim Shultz's outfit. The Democracy Center.

Javier said...

Aqui tienen un reportaje que preparó la cadena erbol sobre los linchamientos


Un saludo, e intentemos ampliar el debate, creo que más complicado que decir si el gobierno hace la vista gorda o no.

miguel (mabb) said...

Of course, I forgot about the democracy center.

Man, people are opinionated on that blog, arent't they? :-)


Javier: Thanks for the tip.

Jorge said...

I find also very scary that the new Constitution would legitimize the so-called "communal justice" and the barbaric acts that are already committed in its name. It seems indeed that Bolivia is on a fast track towards destroying completely any notion of due process.

However, I would also caution against some of the "research" of the Human Rights Foundation. This organization, whose stated goal is to "protect human rights in the Americas", seems strangely focused on Venezuela; just look at their web site. No mention whatsoever of the atrocities committed against women in Central America; not a word about Guantánamo or the death penalty in the US (the Americas include the US, don't they?). Anyway, any organization that includes right-wing luminaries such as Alvarito Vargas Llosa in their governing council can be expected to be about as fair and balanced as Fox News.

The Human Rights Foundation is by no means in the same class (morally or credibility-wise) as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. I would take their reports with extreme caution.

By the way, the Washington Post published an article today on communal justice in Bolivia.

miguel (mabb) said...

For that matter every institution is prone to have its own bias. I think truly independent reporting is hard to come by. That is why, I think informed people do take these and any report with a grain of salt. Now more than ever that is not hard to find out this or that organization has this or that backing or who seat on their governing boards.

On the topic now, communal justice (if you can even use the term justice in this case) is dangerously being raised to the level of regular justice. And yes, the new constitution does contribute to this end.

I think the proposal to have this kind of justice as a mechanism for conflict resolution is more appropriate.

Jorge said...

In the meantime, I read up some more on the HRF. Apparently, it was created by some conservatives as an alternative to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which they accuse of "undermining capitalism" (sic). They believe that property rights and free markets are the basis for human freedom.

The fellow who founded it, a Venezuelan-American named Thor Halvorssen, started his career as human rights defender with another organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, created essentially to defend the rights of conservatives on college campuses, which he feels are under attack, and as an alternative (or to counter) the ACLU (which presumably he also accuses of undermining capitalism).

It seems that HRF is nothing more than an ideologically-driven organization with no moral authority or credibility.

I think it would be great if some internationally respected personality or organization (e.g. Jimmy Carter, AI, HRW) would speak up and sound the alarm about the folly of communal justice in Bolivia. The last thing we need is a bunch of discredited neocons leading the charge; it is counterproductive.

Nick said...

I thought the report was very sensationalist with little evidence of research based on a deep understanding of how justice is applied at local level, or an awareness of the failings of the current legal system. Perhaps not a surprise given the organisation's agenda as pointed out above. I think it is worth reading this critique: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=14155

miguel (mabb) said...

I think the question here is not what are the failings of the current system, because we all know it is a faulty system, but rather if communal justice can substitute the legal system in place.