An effigy with ropes around the neck. Looking like a person. A warning to potential thieves and criminals, which can be found in most rural villages in Bolivia. However, the threat is not idle. The communities usually brutally take justice into their own hands.
There are mainly two reasons why the indigenous of Bolivia use community justice. Firstly, in some rural villages there are no police. Secondly, because they have little faith in the police or the courts. Due to the lack of trust, community justice is even practiced in some urban cities as El Alto, where they physically punish and kill alleged offenders.
Whipping actually became an officially sanctioned punishment in Bolivia, after the election of the first indigenous president; Evo Morales. One of his biggest campaign promises was to revolutionize the justice system. This was well met by the indigenous communities, due to their lack of trust to the western justice system. Arguing that the court will sentence a offender 20 years behind bars. However, if she or he have money and a good lawyer, they do not have to go to jail. The indigenous therefore claim that it is much better to just give the offender a few lashes and be done with it.
However, I have to say that it is not just a few whips the communities make to the offenders. I have personally witnessed community punishment directly on TV many times. I have seen a man that tried to steal a car laying on the ground being hit and kicked by around 40 people. Blue, bloody and swollen. Huddled, trying to protect his face with his hands. As the minutes went, he gave less and less signs of movement and life.
I have seen a man that was caught trying to rape a small girl. Countless of people from the community hitting and kicking the man that was trying to get away and through the door of a house. People were throwing stones at him. They shouting to him that he was a criminal. Pedophile. That they were going to kill him. This guy was almost killed. However, the police came and brought the man with them at the end.
You can ask yourself if maybe these persons would deserve this physical punishment for doing something horrible like stealing and raping. I do not feel sorry or pity for a man that tried to abuse a little girl. However, I have to say that it was very brutal to watch.
I also caught my mind, if they have enough evidence. Was it actually that person that stole the car or the purse of the girl on the street? Or was it someone that looked like him?
I have heard about people that claim they were mistakenly taken for being a criminal, and mistakenly became the victim of community justice. Some were actually killed. Others nearly.
One man that was mistaken for being a thief, and therefore nearly killed was William Villca. In city of Cochabamba, he was tied up by an angry crowd that poured petrol all over his clothes. Then they threw lighted matches at him. One landed on his arm. Today he have several complications from the accident. He needs to wear a bandage to covers his neck and chin. He lost one of his earlobes and has trouble moving his fingers.
On the one hand I see this as a brutal way of punishment. A system where they can easily mistake the offender. I would not even want the three people that have robbed me during my time in Bolivia, to go through this psychical punishment. However, on the other hand I can easily understand the lack of trust people have to the corrupt police in Bolivia.
What do you think about this legal community justice system? Is it an efficient system where the criminals get as deserved?