The Dangers of Communitarian Justice

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There is a real danger about relying on communitarian justice when the state is not able to establish its presence in rural areas. That is the problem that has been highlighted by Bolivia's attempts at relying on communitarian justice in order to complement the weak judicial apparatus in the country.

The Bolivian constitution raises communitarian justice to the same rank as ordinary justice. On the back of ethnic, autonomic and indigenous peoples discourse, now rural dwellers around the country (there where the state is not really present) can claim the use of communitarian justice as an equal alternative to ordinary justice.

This, on one side, stems from the insecurity these dwellers feel because of the lack of presence of police forces. In addition, more often than not, people have to travel long in order to come to the nearest judge.

On the other side, these affinity for communitarian justice stems from the traditional forms of justice some Andean groups have had in the past and still have now. This has become the fundamental argument, within this indigenist discourse, to justify uses of what otherwise would be known as mob justice.

The reason for this post is to highlight an example of what has been happening in Bolivia for some time now.

In the last weeks, the Bolivian statistical institute has been sending people to the rural areas to gather survey data to measure poverty, health, and other things. In the last days, eight of those people were thought to be thieves, kept captured, and almost lynched by the skeptical people in a small town in Cochabamba. The people could be freed after long negotiations with the police and other security forces.

What does this latest example says is that this form of "justice" is not adequate to be a legitimate form of justice. At the most, if anything, it should be incorporated into a conflict solution mechanism.

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