A justice system without jails: crime and punishment in the Andes27 de mayo de 2013 11:53
In 2012, Nelson Fabián León Quillupangui, 25, raped a girl from his community: Inés*, who was 15 at the time.
The two are Cayambi tribemembers, and the crime happened in Cayambi territory, so Nelson’s trial and punishment was carried out according to their traditions: a system called, sometimes pejoratively, “indigenous justice.”
But “indigenous justice” is much more than its reputation for physical, sometimes brutal, punishment. The objective is restoration and reinsertion of both the victim and the offender into the community. To achieve this, decisions about punishment is made by consensus, involving the family members of the offenders and the victims, plus the community leaders.
For Inés, her community judged that her rapist would be responsible for paying for the entirety of her high school and post-secondary education.
The judgment that the Cayambis reached also established that Nelson, the rapist, will complete 40 weekly hours of community service for the next six years, plus will pay a settlement of $10,000 to the victim so she can buy a plot of land in their town. He is also forbidden to leave the country during the six years when he’s completing his community service.
To reinsert Nelson into the community after his trial, he went through a purification ritual which included a smoke bath and six lashings delivered by his father, a shaman, as well as by several women from the community.
If he’d been processed by the criminal justice system, he would have spent 16 years in one of Ecuador’s prisons.
In the same Cayambi tribe, previous “ingidenous justice” processes have tackled the case of a bus driver that ran over and killed two teenagers. In 2010, in nearby Zumbahua, five people were phyisically punished after being accused of murder.
Luis Maldonado, a member of Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) says that indigenous justice is an ancient system that is based on the idea that crime affects the harmony and well-being of the whole community, and this harmony needs to be reestablished. One person cannot deliver indigenous justice: the whole community has to take part. The family of the infractor is commonly implicated in the punishment, because there is the idea that they share some of the blame.
A fundamental part of Andean culture is the interdependence of people: that’s why jail doesn’t exist in their system of justice. They don’t consider the separation of a person from the community as a way to solve problems: they believe separations between people make solutions impossible.
Maldonado says that there is no recidivism for people that go through an indigenous justice process. “Community, hard work and service helps rehabilitate a person who has committed a crime,” he says.
*Name changed to protect the victim’s identity.