Bolivian Jurisdictional Law: A Step in the Right Direction, but Requires Further Clarification

On December 29, the Bolivian legislative assembly passed the “Jurisdictional Law,”(Law 73) which recognizes indigenous, first nations’ and campesino judicial authorities, and establishes the jurisdiction of these tribunals versus the central court.  Law 73 helps to clarify which cases and individuals can be tried in alternative judicial systems.

Most importantly, the law upholds and clarifies Bolivian statutes that strictly forbid lynching or any other form of the death penalty.  However, the law still contains gray areas about specific mechanisms for legal coordination and cooperation among overlapping jurisdictions and definitions of indigenous identity and territory. Follow-up guidelines or legislation for the Jurisdictional Law are crucial to clarify these issues and avoid future conflicts.

Law defuses controversy by forbidding lynching and other extreme penalties

Articles 5 and 6 of emphasize that all rulings must follow national and international human rights laws and accords, as well as the national constitution.  These stipulations allay concerns that recognizing indigenous and campesino judicial authorities would permit lynching, often misconstrued as part of community justice systems (see On Community Justice).  While correctly differentiating between the legal practice of community justice and illegal lynching is an ongoing challenge for some Bolivian and international observers, the Clause 5 of Article 5 bans the latter entirely:

“Lynching is a human rights violation, and is not permitted in any jurisdiction and will be prevented and sanctioned by the Plurinational State.”[i]

Although the law is clear on this point, different actors have incorrectly characterized lynching as community justice. Even before the formal recognition of indigenous justice systems in the 2009 constitution, some perpetrators justified lynching as acts of community justice. Media and members of the political opposition have further this confusion.  For example, some citizens of Uncia, Potosi lynched four policemen in June 2010, apparently to punish the officers for extortion. The Morales administration clearly identified this recent lynching a crime and demanded a full legal investigation in the central justice system.  Although some members of the affected communities tried to classify their actions as “community justice” to justify the killings, other indigenous organizations and leaders rejected this stance.  The killings coincided with the release of the proposal for the draft Jurisdictional Law, which added fuel to the opposition’s fire against the pending legislation; MAS opponents skewed this example to equate “mob rule” with indigenous justice.

The Bolivian constitution also forbids any form of the death penalty.  As a result, the jurisdictional law strictly sanctions murder and considers the death penalty a criminal act:

“In strict application of the Constitution, the death penalty is prohibited. Anyone who imposes, permits, or enforces the death penalty will be tried for murder in the pre-existing central court.”[ii]

Although the law legally validates community justice systems, it also bans certain penalties potentially sanctioned within those jurisdictions. Prohibited punishments include land confiscation from senior citizens or physically handicapped individuals, and violence against children or women.[iii] By recognizing indigenous legal systems, the Bolivian government gains the legal right to regulate and oversee these authorities to avoid human rights abuses and discrimination wrongfully labeled as community justice.

Defines spheres of authority

Articles 7 through 12 delineate indigenous, first nations’ and campesino judicial authority.  Article 7 defines this jurisdiction as:

“The authority of indigenous, original, campesino peoples and nations to administer justice in accordance with their own justice system(s), exercised through their authorities, as established under the Constitution and this Law.”[iv]

Indigenous courts can only hear cases when infractions occur within their own territories, when the parties involved belong to the group in question, and when the legal matter violates a traditional and historical community justice norm.[v] These courts cannot make determinations on broader issues such as national security, international norms, state administration or social security rights.  For example, community justice authorities cannot try terrorism cases because these are considered a threat to national security.  Similarly, only the central court system may process, drug, arms, and human trafficking cases.[vi]

According to Article 12, indigenous, first nations and campesino judicial authorities’ rulings cannot be appealed to or overturned by the central court system, effectively awarding community courts equal standing to central courts for cases that fall within their allotted jurisdictions.[vii] In order for cases to be successfully tried under these newly recognized authorities the Bolivian legislature should further clarify legislation applying to community justice systems.  However, thus far there is no indication of when any follow-up guidelines might be released, nor does the text of the law stipulate the need for such regulations.

Existing Bolivian and international framework for first nations’ membership and territory

While the law does not explicitly state how indigenous, first nations and campesino territory and identity will be defined, existing guidelines and legislation could help clarify these ambiguities. For example, 2009 and 2010 electoral legislation allowed indigenous municipalities (as determined by the 2001 census in which more than 50 % of people over the age of 15 self-identified as indigenous or spoke indigenous languages) to vote to become autonomous.[viii] December 2009 referendums created several indigenous municipalities, as well as first nations and campesino autonomous areas in several parts of the country. These territories include groups that identify as Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní indigenous peoples.[ix] The Autonomy Framework Law defines them as “Peoples and nations that existed before the invasion or colonization, constitute a historically developed sociopolitical unit with organization, culture, institutions, law, ritual, religion, language, and other common and integrated characteristics. They reside in a determined ancestral territory and through their own institutions …[x] However, it is still unclear whether these criteria or other models will determine the boundaries of indigenous legal authority.

Existing models for indigenous law exist in Canada, the United States, Australia and others.  In Canada, individuals entitled to membership in aboriginal groups and whose kinship status can be proven by familial lineage register in both tribal and national records.[xi] Only these individuals and their children can live on reserve lands.[xii] However, this model has had its flaws.  Until 1985, native women who married a non-aboriginal man would lose their status and band rights, while men who married a non-aboriginal woman would maintain it.[xiii] While this particular issue has been resolved, proving (and for many women regaining) kinship rights remains complex in Canada. In Bolivia, such a system would be extremely difficult since 60-70 % of the total population self-identifies as indigenous.[xiv] The sheer number of people who would have to be registered would be extremely challenging for the already strained Bolivian judicial system, but the Morales administration must establish a basic framework for determining individual indigenous identity.

Territorial claims further complicate determining membership in indigenous, first nations and campesino groups.  Not all people living within autonomous areas self-identify as part of an indigenous nation or support indigenous autonomy.  Moreover, many indigenous people live in integrated, urban environments.  The law must provide clearer guidelines for determining who can be counted as a member of these groups and thereby tried in alternative court systems.

The question of indigenous identity has always been complicated in Bolivia and this law may increase tension over this issue.  Guidelines cannot satisfy everyone, but the Bolivian Judiciary must further define the framework for proving indigenous, campesino and first nations identity in order to successfully recognize community judicial authorities.

Remaining ambiguities regarding coordination and cooperation

The articles (13-17) that fall under “Coordination and Cooperation” loosely define how indigenous, first nations and campesino authorities must coordinate with each other and with the regular court system.

Coordination between judicial authorities continues to be a challenge for countries with established indigenous justice systems.  For example, the U.S. approved legislation in 2010 in order to better coordinate between federal and tribal jurisdictions.  This gives tribal courts greater sentencing authority, extending their maximum jail sentence authority from one to three years. Proponents of the law argued that many reservations are remote and it makes more sense to try first nations people within their own communities, rather than in courts that are hundreds of miles from home. The 2010 bill reflects the Obama administration’s pledge to work more closely with Native American leaders and respond to concerns voiced by these communities, such as violence against women.  Bolivia’s law similarly recognizes indigenous authorities while responding to the needs of indigenous, campesino and first nations communities.  However, these stipulations also obligate federal courts to increase coordination and communication with tribal legal authorities.[xv] The Bolivian judiciary must implement a flexible system that can serve the needs of the intended population.  As demonstrated by the U.S. law, successful implementation will require continual oversight, investment, and adaptability.

The Bolivian Jurisdictional Law also seeks to establish mechanisms for different jurisdictions to coordinate to protect human rights, enforce transparency and create effective conflict resolution strategies. [xvi] While these measures would greatly facilitate its implementation, the law does not elaborate on any of the specific practices or cooperation systems, nor does it establish concrete guidelines to create these structures. While the law outlines mechanisms such as information sharing and advisory committees, it is still unclear who will oversee these institutions and processes or the timeframe for implementation.[xvii] The law also establishes that more than one judicial branch, such as indigenous and environmental authorities, must jointly process some legal cases if the crime falls into multiple jurisdictions, yet fails to outline how to determine and coordinate joint authority.[xviii] In order to successfully achieve goals of cooperation and coordination, the Bolivian Judiciary must create a coherent system to share judicial responsibility and open communication channels between authorities.

Conclusions

The Jurisdictional Law resolves some issues that arose with the passage of the 2009 constitution, but may provoke future complications.  Some sections of the law, such as those forbidding death penalty, are clear, yet others, such as mechanisms for jurisdictional cooperation, remain amorphously defined.  The judicial branch, indigenous authorities and legislators must work to establish clear guidelines in order to smoothly implement and establish these laws.

The constitution’s ratification created the need for a thorough overhaul of the nation’s laws, a lengthy and tedious process, which has resolved some legal gray areas, but created or maintained others.  As a result, the legislative process still has a long way to go to clearly define most of the national laws passed in the preceding year.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Jurisdictional Law cannot be truly evaluated until its broad implementation.  However, this law is an important judicial change in Bolivia, reflecting the limitations of the current judicial system while respecting the need for greater incorporation of indigenous, campesino and first nations peoples’ norms and practices.  As Spanish-Bolivian anthropologist Xavier Albó explains:

“Public institutions must be designed with plural and intercultural, structures and norms, including the composition of their personnel, and decision-makers.  For example, let us consider the administration of justice: at operational levels, not parallel, but mixed and multicultural authorities would be the most effective strategy.  Of course, this model should also be an essential requirement for departmental and national scope.  This alternative model will be an important step toward fortifying the unity of the Plurinational State.”[xix]


[i] Government of Bolivia, La Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional, LEY 073: “Ley de Deslinde Jurisdiccional,” 29 December 2010.

ARTÍCULO 5. (RESPETO A LOS DERECHOS FUNDAMENTALES Y GARANTÍAS CONSTITUCIONALES).

Todas las jurisdicciones reconocidas constitucionalmente, respetan promueven y garantizan el derecho a la vida, y los demás derechos y garantías reconocidos por la Constitución Política del Estado.

Todas las jurisdicciones reconocidas constitucionalmente respetan y garantizan el ejercicio de los derechos de las mujeres, su participación, decisión, presencia y permanencia, tanto en el acceso igualitario y justo a los cargos como en el control, decisión y participación en la administración de justicia.

Las autoridades de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina no sancionarán con la pérdida de tierras o la expulsión a las y los adultos mayores o personas en situación de discapacidad, por causa de incumplimiento de deberes comunales, cargos, aportes y trabajos comunales.

Todas las jurisdicciones reconocidas constitucionalmente, prohíben y sancionan toda forma de violencia contra niñas, niños, adolescentes y mujeres. Es ilegal cualquier conciliación respecto de este tema.

El linchamiento es una violación a los Derechos Humanos, no está permitido en ninguna jurisdicción y debe ser prevenido y sancionado por el Estado Plurinacional

[ii] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 6. (PROHIBICIÓN DE LA PENA DE MUERTE).-

En estricta aplicación de la Constitución Política del Estado, está terminantemente prohibida la pena de muerte bajo proceso penal en la justicia ordinaria por el delito de asesinato a quien la imponga, la consienta o la ejecute.

[iii] Ibid. ARTÍCULO 5

[iv] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 7. (JURISDICCIÓN INDÍGENA ORIGINARIA CAMPESINA).-

Es la potestad que tienen las naciones y pueblos indígena originario campesinos de administrar justicia de acuerdo a su sistema de justicia propio y se ejerce por medio de sus autoridades, en el marco de lo establecido en la Constitución Política del Estado y la presente Ley.

[v] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 8. (ÁMBITOS DE VIGENCIA).-

La jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina se ejerce en los ámbitos de vigencia personal, material y territorial, cuando concurran simultáneamente.

ARTÍCULO 9. (ÁMBITO DE VIGENCIA PERSONAL).-

Están sujetos a la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina los miembros de la respectiva nación o pueblo indígena originario campesino.

ARTÍCULO 10. (ÁMBITO DE VIGENCIA MATERIAL).-

La jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina conoce los asuntos o conflictos que histórica y tradicionalmente conocieron bajo sus normas, procedimientos propios vigentes y saberes, de acuerdo a su libre determinación.

El ámbito de vigencia material de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina no alcanza a las siguientes materias:

En materia penal, los delitos contra el Derecho Internacional, los delitos por crímenes de lesa humanidad, los delitos contra la seguridad interna y externa del Estado, los delitos de terrorismo, los delitos tributarios y aduaneros, los delitos por corrupción o cualquier otro delito cuya víctima sea el Estado, trata y tráfico de personas, tráfico de armas y delitos de narcotráfico. Los delitos cometidos en contra de la integridad corporal de niños, niñas y adolescentes, los delitos de violación, asesinato u homicidio;

En materia civil, cualquier proceso en el cual sea parte o tercero interesado el Estado, a través de su administración central, descentralizada, desconcentrada, autonómica y lo relacionado al derecho propietario;

Derecho Laboral, Derecho de la Seguridad Social, Derecho Tributario, Derecho Administrativo, Derecho Minero, Derecho de Hidrocarburos, Derecho Forestal, Derecho Informático, Derecho Internacional público y privado, y Derecho Agrario, excepto la distribución interna de tierras en las comunidades que tengan posesión legal o derecho propietario colectivo sobre las mismas;

Otras que estén reservadas por la Constitución Política del Estado y la Ley a las jurisdicciones ordinaria, agroambiental y otras reconocidas legalmente.

III. Los asuntos de conocimiento de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina, no podrán ser de conocimiento de la jurisdicción ordinaria, la agroambiental y las demás jurisdicciones legalmente reconocidas.

ARTÍCULO 11. (ÁMBITO DE VIGENCIA TERRITORIAL).-

El ámbito de vigencia territorial se aplica a las relaciones y hechos jurídicos que se realizan o cuyos efectos se producen dentro de la jurisdicción de un pueblo indígena originario campesino, siempre y cuando concurran los otros ámbitos de vigencia establecidos en la Constitución Política del Estado y en la presente Ley.

[vi] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 10. (ÁMBITO DE VIGENCIA MATERIAL).-

I. La jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina conoce los asuntos o conflictos que histórica y tradicionalmente conocieron bajo sus normas, procedimientos propios vigentes y saberes, de acuerdo a su libre determinación.

II. El ámbito de vigencia material de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina no alcanza a las siguientes materias:

a) En materia penal, los delitos contra el Derecho Internacional, los delitos por crímenes de lesa humanidad, los delitos contra la seguridad interna y externa del Estado, los delitos de terrorismo, los delitos tributarios y aduaneros, los delitos por corrupción o cualquier otro delito cuya víctima sea el Estado, trata y tráfico de personas, tráfico de armas y delitos de narcotráfico. Los delitos cometidos en contra de la integridad corporal de niños, niñas y adolescentes, los delitos de violación, asesinato u homicidio;

b) En materia civil, cualquier proceso en el cual sea parte o tercero interesado el Estado, a través de su administración central, descentralizada, desconcentrada, autonómica y lo relacionado al derecho propietario;

c) Derecho Laboral, Derecho de la Seguridad Social, Derecho Tributario, Derecho Administrativo, Derecho Minero, Derecho de Hidrocarburos, Derecho Forestal, Derecho Informático, Derecho Internacional público y privado, y Derecho Agrario, excepto la distribución interna de tierras en las comunidades que tengan posesión legal o derecho propietario colectivo sobre las mismas;

d) Otras que estén reservadas por la Constitución Política del Estado y la Ley a las jurisdicciones ordinaria, agroambiental y otras reconocidas legalmente.

III. Los asuntos de conocimiento de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina, no podrán ser de conocimiento de la jurisdicción ordinaria, la agroambiental y las demás jurisdicciones legalmente reconocidas.

[vii] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 12. (OBLIGATORIEDAD).-

I. Las decisiones de las autoridades de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina son de cumplimiento obligatorio y serán acatadas por todas las personas y autoridades.

II. Las decisiones de las autoridades de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina son irrevisables por la jurisdicción ordinaria, la agroambiental y las otras legalmente reconocidas.

[viii] See Government of Bolivia, Bolivian National Congress Ley 4021: “Régimen Electoral Transitorio,” 14 April 2009; Government of Bolivia: Decreto Supremo 231: “Reglamenta la Disposición Final Tercera de la Ley Nº 4021, de 14 de abril de 2009, Régimen Electoral Transitorio, estableciendo los requisitos y procedimientos para la convocatoria y realización de referendo municipal de consulta para adoptar la condición de Autonomías indígena Originario Campesinas, a realizarse el 6 de diciembre de 2009.” 2 August 2009; Government of Bolivia, La Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional, Ley 026: “Ley del Régimen Electoral,” 30 June 2010.

[ix] Ministry of Autonomy, “Autonomías Indígenas Orginarias Campesinas,” October 2010.

[x] Government of Bolivia, La Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional, LEY N° 031, “Ley Marco de Autonomías y descentralizacón ‘Andrés Ibáñez,;” 19 July 2010.

ARTÍCULO 6, III

“Son pueblos y naciones que existen con anterioridad a la invasión o colonización, constituyen una unidad sociopolítica, históricamente desarrollada, con organización, cultura, instituciones, derecho, ritualidad, religión, idioma y otras características comunes e integradas. Se encuentran asentados en un territorio ancestral determinado y mediante sus instituciones propias, en tierras altas son los Suyus conformados por Markas, Ayllus y otras formas de organización, y en tierras bajas con las características propias de cada w pueblo indígena, de acuerdo a lo establecido en el Artículo 2, el Parágrafo I del Artículo 30 y el Artículo 32 de la Constitución Política del Estado.”

[xi] Government of Canada, Department of Justice, “Indian Act (R.S., 1985, c. I-5),” April 1985.

Indian Register

5. (1) There shall be maintained in the Department an Indian Register in which shall be recorded the name of every person who is entitled to be registered as an Indian under this Act.

Band Lists

8. There shall be maintained in accordance with this Act for each band a Band List in

which shall be entered the name of every person who is a member of that band.

[xii] Ibid.

Children of band members

18.1 A member of a band who resides on the reserve of the band may reside there

with his dependent children or any children of whom the member has custody.

[xiii] Ibid.

Persons entitled to be registered

6. (1) Subject to section 7, a person is entitled to be registered if

(a) that person was registered or entitled to be registered immediately prior to April 17,1985;

(b) that person is a member of a body of persons that has been declared by the Governor

in Council on or after April 17, 1985 to be a band for the purposes of this Act;

(c) the name of that person was omitted or deleted from the Indian Register, or from a

band list prior to September 4, 1951, under subparagraph 12(1)(a)(iv), paragraph

12(1)(b) or subsection 12(2) or under subparagraph 12(1)(a)(iii) pursuant to an order

made under subsection 109(2), as each provision read immediately prior to April 17,

1985, or under any former provision of this Act relating to the same subject-matter as

any of those provisions;

(d) the name of that person was omitted or deleted from the Indian Register, or from a

band list prior to September 4, 1951, under subparagraph 12(1)(a)(iii) pursuant to an

order made under subsection 109(1), as each provision read immediately prior to April

17, 1985, or under any former provision of this Act relating to the same subject-matter

as any of those provisions;

(e) the name of that person was omitted or deleted from the Indian Register, or from a

band list prior to September 4, 1951,

(i) under section 13, as it read immediately prior to September 4, 1951, or under

any former provision of this Act relating to the same subject-matter as that

section, or

(ii) under section 111, as it read immediately prior to July 1, 1920, or under any

former provision of this Act relating to the same subject-matter as that section; or

(f) that person is a person both of whose parents are or, if no longer living, were at the

time of death entitled to be registered under this section.

[xiv] CEPAL/BID, “Los pueblos indígenas de Bolivia: diagnóstico sociodemográfico a partir del censo del 2001,”

[xvi] “Ley de Deslinde Jurisdiccional.”

ARTÍCULO 14. (MECANISMOS DE COORDINACIÓN).-

La coordinación entre las autoridades de las diferentes jurisdicciones podrá ser mediante el:

Establecimiento de sistemas de acceso transparente a información sobre hechos y antecedentes de personas;

Establecimiento de espacios de diálogo u otras formas, sobre la aplicación de los derechos humanos en sus resoluciones;

Establecimiento de espacios de diálogo u otras formas para el intercambio de experiencias sobre los métodos de resolución de conflictos;

Otros mecanismos de coordinación, que puedan emerger en función de la aplicación de la presente Ley.

[xvii] Ibid.

ARTÍCULO 16. (MECANISMOS DE COOPERACIÓN).-

I. Los mecanismos de cooperación se desarrollarán en condiciones de equidad, transparencia, solidaridad, participación y control social, celeridad, oportunidad y gratuidad.

II. Son mecanismos de cooperación:

Las autoridades jurisdiccionales y las autoridades del Ministerio Público, Policía Boliviana, Régimen Penitenciario u otras instituciones, deben prestar inmediata cooperación y proporcionarán los antecedentes del caso a las autoridades de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina cuando éstas la soliciten;

Las autoridades de la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina prestarán cooperación a las autoridades de la jurisdicción ordinaria, de la agroambiental y de las otras jurisdicciones legalmente reconocidas;

La remisión de la información y antecedentes de los asuntos o conflictos entre la jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina y las demás jurisdicciones;

Otros mecanismos de cooperación, que puedan emerger en función de la aplicación de la presente Ley.

[xviii] ”Ley de Deslinde Jurisdicional,” 2005.

ARTÍCULO 15. (COOPERACIÓN).-

La jurisdicción indígena originaria campesina, la ordinaria, la agroambiental y las demás jurisdicciones legalmente reconocidas, tienen el deber de cooperarse mutuamente, para el cumplimiento y realización de sus fines y objetivos.

[xix] “¿Cómo diseñar un Estado unitario plurinacional?”

Es entonces indispensable que allí las instituciones públicas estén diseñadas de una manera plural e intercultural tanto en su estructura y normas como en la composición  de su personal, incluidos los que toman decisiones. Pensemos, por ejemplo, en la administración de justicia: a esos niveles lo más operativo ya no serán sistemas paralelos sino instancias mixtas e interculturales. Esta es también, por supuesto, una exigencia fundamental para las instituciones de alcance departamental y nacional. Y es en gran medida esa segunda vía la que contribuirá a fortalecer la unidad del Estado Plurinacional.