[JURIST] The Bolivian National Congress [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday approved legislation [text, PDF; in Spanish] that would create an independent justice system for indigenous communities. The Law of Judicial Authority, passed by the Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish], the lower house of Congress, would create a system of "communal justice" that would expedite the settlement of disputes [La Prensa report, in Spanish] and end the colonization of justice, according to supporters. The bill would also create governmental agencies designed to defend the individual and collective rights of Bolivians. The law would restructure the Bolivian courts [GlobaLex backgrounder], creating a greater number of specialized courts, and would seek to extend judicial functions into rural areas. The preamble of the legislation outlined its benefits, stating:
The … new institutions of the multinational state [created by the bill] should greatly exceed the monocultural structure inherited from the colonial past; and should, on the basis of individual and collective effort, in each organizational structure and in all organs and institutions of public power, manifest the ideals of freedom and independence and realize a state that is sovereign, democratic, intercultrual, decentralized and autonomous.
Opponents in congress have criticized the bill [El Deber report, in Spanish] as a way in which to get more people from the indigenous population on the courts, regardless of merit. The legislation will now go to the Bolivian Senate, which is expected to approve the bill [BBC report].
The legislation comes as part of a wider campaign by Bolivian President Evo Morales [official profile; BBC profile] to advance the interests of the majority indigenous community, which has been a theme of his presidency [JURIST report]. In March 2009, Morales began redistributing land to indigenous farmers under power given to him by the country's new constitution [text, in Spanish]. In a ceremony on part of the land seized by the government from large owners, Morales turned over about 94,000 acres to Guarani Indians. Bolivia's new constitution went into effect [JURIST report] in February 2009, after being approved [JURIST report] by national referendum the previous month with a 59 percent majority. It is intended to place more power in the hands of the country's indigenous. The constitution was described by Morales, himself a member of the indigenous majority, to be the start of the new Bolivia. The constitution is intended to remove traditional colonial elites from power and to challenge US influence. It also creates seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups. In October 2008, the congress ratified [JURIST report] the proposed reforms after Morales agreed not to run for re-election in 2014.