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Date: Sat, 11 Sep 1999 15:50:43 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-ECUADOR: Indigenous Groups Take Justice into Own Hands
Article: 75926
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.9498.19990912091543@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 434.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-ECUADOR: Indigenous Groups Take Justice into Own Hands **y ** Written 9:11 PM Sep 10, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Indigenous Groups Take Justice into Own Hands

By Kintto Lucas, IPS
10 September 1999

QUITO, Sep 10 (IPS) - Two recent cases of indigenous communities taking justice into their own hands have caused concern in Ecuador.

Indigenous residents of Angahuana, a town in the central mountainous region near the capital, are holding six individuals accused of car theft in small prefabricated booths on one side of the town square, pending their trial in accordance with indigenous laws.

Although the constitution of this Andean nation, approved in 1997, recognises the use of indigenous laws in native communities, Congress has not yet passed legislation to regulate that system of justice.

"Our administration of justice is covered by the constitution," said an indigenous spokesperson from Angahuana. "We have not abducted anyone; we just want information in order to find the members of the gang robbing and killing in our communities."

But authorities fear a repeat of an incident that occurred Sep 1 in Cayambe, when a 15-year-old was burned to death by local indigenous residents who accused him of belonging to a youth gang that has committed several robberies in the area.

A group of over 300 locals seized the teenager, bathed him in cold water, rubbed stinging nettles over his body - as part of a "purifying rite" provided for by indigenous justice - and set him alight.

Indigenous parliamentary Deputy Nina Pacari, vice-president of Congress, told IPS that the punishment meted out by native groups in Ecuador always involved corporeal and spiritual cleansing.

"It has been demonstrated that nettles have curative properties for the nervous system, which reacts in a positive sense. That cleansing is completed with cold water," she said.

Pacari said that although indigenous justice provided for the death penalty, it was only applied in extreme circumstances. She explained that cases were first addressed by the council of the family, then sent to the community council, and later to the town council, and that after the trial, the entire community decided on the punishment.

But it is not only indigenous communities that have been taking justice into their own hands in Ecuador.

In 1996, 12 people were killed in lynching-style incidents, 14 in 1997, 17 in 1998, and 15 so far this year.

In October 1998, 60 taxi-drivers in Portoviejo, on the Pacific coast, burned four minors accused of robbing a taxi-driver. Two of them died on the spot, and the other two were seriously injured.

Shortly before that, residents of the coastal cities of Machala and Guayaquil - the country's economic capital - lynched two alleged thieves, who were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

But Pacari maintained that a lynching in the cities was not the same as the measures taken by indigenous communities, which had their own legal system.

"We are native peoples, with different ways of life," she said. "We have norms, laws and forms of administering justice which have been part of our mechanisms for survival, and differ from those of the West."

According to the parliamentary deputy, the laws followed by indigenous groups - which account for 3.5 million of Ecuador's 11.5 million inhabitants - are based on the three basic principles of do not lie, do not steal and do not kill.

"Our justice is collective, there is a trial," she stressed. "In lynchings that take place in the cities, there is no justice, because an enraged mob beats or otherwise injures the criminal without any trial."

In Tungurahua, where the town of Angahuana is located, the case of the six alleged car-thieves is not the first time local residents have taken justice into their own hands.

Catholic priest Gonzalo Espinoza, the vicar-general of the diocese of Tungurahua, said that although unjustifiable, such incidents could be explained by the terror spread by criminal gangs among the rural population.

Vicente Chato, leader of the Tungurahua Indigenous Parliament, the top native authority in that province, told IPS that Ecuador's justice system did not serve indigenous people.

"During the indigenous 'uprising' (widespread protests) in July, an Indian girl was killed, and no authority investigated," said Chato. "The same thing occurs when gangs come into our villages and kidnap, steal and kill, and no one is brought to justice."

He added that it was all part of long-standing discrimination against indigenous communities, pointing out that the armed forces and civilian authorities had no problem cracking down on protests, but did "nothing to combat crime" in indigenous communities.

Chato said the Indigenous Parliament would accept the decision taken by the town council of Angahuana. "We have our own system of government. We lament the absence of the police, but we will not sit down and just wait," he added.

Instances of collective vigilante justice have mainly occurred in the coastal provinces of Guayas and El Oro, the provinces of Pichincha, Tungurahua and Cotopaxi in Ecuador's mountainous region, and the Amazon jungle region of Sucumbíos, according to a study by the Permanent Committee for Defence of Human Rights.

A survey conducted by the human rights group found that one in five Ecuadoreans believed people had the right to take justice into their own hands.


Origin: Montevideo/RIGHTS-ECUADOR/

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