Contrary to Popular Belief: Lynching in Bolivia Decreased Significantly in 2011

Since the legal recognition of community justice in the 2009 constitution, Bolivia’s political opposition and the press have repeatedly blamed Morales administration legal reform initiatives for a supposed increase in lynching.

For example, the Economist asserted:

Many rural Bolivians have no access to the courts. The new constitution drawn up by Mr. Morales’s party and approved in 2009 has legalized traditional justice dispensed by village elders. Community justice can sometimes resemble legalised lynching, featuring stoning, strangulation or burning with petrol.”

Yet, the facts don’t to support these dramatic allegations.

On December 29, 2010, the Bolivian legislative assembly passed the “Jurisdictional Law,”(Law 73) which upholds and clarifies Bolivian statutes that strictly forbid lynching or any other form of the death penalty.

Furthermore, during the following year, 2011, the number of registered lynchings reduced significantly. A February 2012 Report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights affirmed:

According to press accounts, there was a notable decrease in the lynching phenomena compared to the last two years.  During the first ten months of 2011, the Bolivia office registered 20 lynchings or attempted lynching cases, which ended in the deaths of nine men and one woman. Thirty men (including eight adolescents) and one woman were wounded. But, there has not been progress noted in most of the legal proceedings from previous cases. 

Clearly, more needs to be done to address lynching in Bolivia, a response to ineffectual, and often corrupt, law enforcement, which exacerbates citizen insecurity.  These issues can only be meaningfully addressed with profound and lasting police reform, something that successive Bolivian administrations have been unwilling or unable to enact.

Recent riots demanding police action and one lynching death in El Alto last week highlight this need for structural transformation.  Like political blame for lynching, Band-Aid measures such as the Morales administration’s decision follow its predecessors’ lead and temporarily use the armed forces to patrol the streets of major cities, do nothing to improve police performance.  Furthermore, they appear to be a risky public relations gamble that could do more harm than good.   Clear identification of the causes and potential solutions for crime and citizen insecurity is an important first step for all involved.