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Indigenous Justice in Colombia

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Issue: 56 Section: Photo Essay Geography: Latin America Colombia, Northern Cauca Topics: war, Indigenous, Justice

December 6, 2008

Indigenous Justice in Colombia

Traditional justice sentences kidnappers, restores faith in community and traditional authorities

by Dawn Paley

Photo: Dawn Paley

The town center of the Resguardo (Reserve) of Jambaló in Northern Cauca. On November 26th, seven people were kidnapped on the road leading out of Jambaló's town center, in the village of Pioyá. Five were liberated later that night, and the other two in the early hours of the next day. The hostages were liberated by the Indigenous Guard of Jambaló and members of the community, and four of the five kidnappers were apprehended.

Since five of the seven people kidnapped were Nasa People, the kidnappers were Nasa, and kidnapping happened on Indigenous territory, the community of Jambaló held an assembly to sentence the three accused according to indigenous principles of justice. The assembly took place on December 4, 2008.
Members of the Tejido de Comunicación (Communications network) of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca prepare for the assembly, along with members of the community radio station in Jambaló, who transmitted live from the assembly.
The assembly for the application of justice attracted hundreds of people, including representatives of over thirty villages that comprise the Resguardo of Jambaló.
The Indigenous Guard formed a ring around the three accused. In their hands they hold the staffs of authority.
"The situation that the country is living through has contaminated our community. We have come together today to remedy the situation, in a way that has been done since ancient times," said Rodrigo Dagua, Governor of Jambaló.
"The people who were kidnapped are not here with us today because we can not guarantee their safe passage," explained Eibar Fernandez, co-ordinator of Jambaló's global projects. Fernandez clarified that the assembly was open to media because, "We have nothing to hide... We want the world to know that Indians can manage their own justice." The local radio station, the Communications Network of the ACIN, Colombia's Caracol TV, Al Jazeera and Telesur all covered the event.
After various interventions by local authorities, family members of the accused addressed the community. "The kidnappings were not a 'mistake,' they were the result of an illness that has affected our community," said Flor Ilba Trochez, a former Governor of Jambaló. The three accused, including Trochez' brother, sit to her left. They all confessed to the crime. The fourth kidnapper was turned over to state authorities. The fifth kidnapper, who escaped, is a known member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and it is believed he was the intellectual author of the kidnapping. The Indigenous Guard is currently searching for the escaped kidnapper, and the Council of Jambaló have begun an investigation.
The rain caused people to seek shelter, but everyone stayed to listen to the traditional authorities, the words of the family members, and a brief intervention by the Defensor del Pueblo, a state run human rights organization.
Inside, people prepared food to share with everyone present at the assembly.
After more than six hours of attending the assembly, community members formed commissions to come up with three possible methods of punishment. The three options were then presented to the whole assembly, where it was voted that the three accused would serve 15 years of prison time in cells "rented" to the Indigenous Council of Jambaló, who will remain in charge of the prisoners. The three men will be eligible for early conditional release after six years, depending on their behaviour.

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motivation for the kidnapping?

A little commentary on the motivations for the kidnapping could have put this story into context. Was frustrating to read without that knowledge.

Reasons for Kidnapping

Thanks for the comment. The reason for the kidnapping is not known, as the intellectual author is still escaped and the three accused that were before the assembly in Jambaló refused to explain their motives. Since the intellectual author is a known FARC militant, it is assumed that the reason was to extort money from families for the release of the hostages, but again, that's only speculation right now.

What can we learn from this?

Thanks for sharing this information, Dawn.
There is a lot we can take from this and hopefully apply to indigenous self-governance and justice in Canada. That two legal and penal systems can work simultaneously and in tandem gives me a lot of hope.

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