A qualitative analysis of indigenous justice and legal pluralism in Bolivia

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The Constitution of Bolivia (2009) defines the country as a ‘Plurinational […] State’ founded on ‘juridical […] pluralism’ (Constitution of Bolivia, 2009, Art. 1). This means that Bolivia is administratively subdivided into rural areas (or indigenous communities) and cities, which are drawn together to form the State of Bolivia. The constitution recognises the legal autonomy of indigenous communities when it comes to responding to, for example, less serious criminal behaviour committed within their legal territories. This is not replicated in the cities, where the civil law based system of justice takes effect.

    This research provides a qualitative analysis of indigenous justice and legal pluralism in Bolivia with two main objectives. First, it focuses on the study of an aymara indigenous community in the department of La Paz. Given the dearth of existing research on indigenous justice both in Bolivia and Latin America, this study provides much needed data. It examines local mechanisms and standards of conflict resolution, and reveals the interrelations between these and Western practices of restorative justice. This evidences the strengths and weaknesses of both practices, suggests how they may be enriched, and might lead to a new understanding of restorative justice. In particular, data collected for this thesis demonstrates that there is very little if anything in common between indigenous and restorative justice; these are profoundly different and should be assessed separately. Second, international literature on legal pluralism in Bolivia is limited to the analysis of its constitution and does not examine the way in which legal pluralism plays out in the country. The present study covers this gap in knowledge by describing the current forms of the relationships between the indigenous and the civil law based system of justice in the country. This allows to understand whether legal pluralism in Bolivia genuinely respects indigenous justice or whether it largely implements centralised rule of law standards.

    To achieve its objectives, this research involves a qualitative multi-method approach. Half of it was conducted in La Paz to concentrate on the study of indigenous justice and legal pluralism, while another half in Lagarate, an aymara indigenous community, where a focused ethnography was carried out. Findings from the present study make an important contribution to the literature on indigenous justice, restorative justice, and legal pluralism. In addition, they
    might have implications for the practice of restorative justice in Western society and the implementation of the policy of legal pluralism in Bolivia.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKate Williams (Supervisor) & Ali Wardak (Supervisor)

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