Ecuador’s Attorney General’s office has begun an investigation into the deaths of two men who were beaten and then burned to death last week in the Cotopaxi Province town of Toacaso.
The deaths are being called “executions” by leaders of the Panzaleo, the indigenous people who make up the majority of Toacaso residents. “These men faced the wrath and justice of the people,” a social media post justifying the deaths announced. “They were robbers and hitmen who received the fate they deserved under the rules of indigenous justice.”
Although Ecuador’s constitution recognizes and protects the right of indigenous people to mete out their own justice, the process must abide by prescribed rules and not include the death penalty. According to prosecutors investigating the February 9 Toacaso deaths, the rules were not followed. “Torture and executions are not allowed under the five steps of indigenous justice described in the constitution,” an attorney at the Attorney General’s office said. “By law, this case must be reviewed since there appears to be clear violations.”
According to witnesses of the punishment, several National Police personnel arrived as the two men were beaten and stood by while they were doused with gasoline and burned alive. “They should have interceded but they were afraid that the crowd would turn on them,” the unnamed AG attorney said. “We are also looking into the police behavior as well.”
According to a leader of the Panzaleo, the police were told not to intervene since the trial and punishment were an indigenous matter. “This was not a case for the police or the government since it was conducted by Panzaleo elders,” a Toacaso resident said in a Tweet. “The authority was with the community under article 171 of the constitution, not the police.”
Police said a crowd of about 400 witnessed and participated in the beatings and immolations.
According to Quito attorney and law professor Raúl Ilaquiche, the Toacaso case is a flagrant violation of the rules of indigenous justice. “The rules, which require a process of investigation, a reading of charges to the accused, payment of reparation to injured parties, and the possible rendering of physical punishment to the convicted, were not followed in this instance,” he says.
Ilaquiche added that a justice council of the elders was not conducted, as required by article 171. “It is sometimes a fine line between indigenous justice and mob violence but that distinctions is very important,” he said. “If it is not, we have a situation of legal chaos.”