(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

The justice of the peace in Peru: a peaceful means of conflict resolution. The case of the Colca Valley region (Caylloma, Arequipa, Peru)

Summary of research carried out: 
The justice of the peace in Peru: a peaceful means of conflict resolution. The case of the Colca Valley region (Caylloma, Arequipa, Peru)

My research focuses on the administration of justice in a region of the Southern Peruvian Andes: Colca Valley, in the province of Arequipa.

The legal system – and laws – of Peru testify to the gulf between social realities and how the institutions work. That gulf is glaring in rural society, where inefficient administration of justice often leads to defendants taking action that may be categorized as selfjurisdiction or self-defence, or resorting to extrajudicial procedures, extralegal and illegal actions, or even to lynchings and other such forms of social control. Yet the state has provided a court before which parties to a dispute can settle their differences peacefully: the court of arbitration. It is peaceful because it does not involve litigation through the judicial system. All the same, this court has taken on special importance in the Andes.

The competence of the justice of the peace, the first level of the judicial system, is limited to cases carrying with them a fine equal to no more than four times the legal minimum monthly salary (around €550). Otherwise, the justice of the peace must refer the case to the county court. Justices of the peace are local peasants, and those brought before them rely on their judgement and knowledge of customs. They act as mediators in a conciliation process, which is the ultimate purpose of their post as laid down by the law.

Most cases in the Andes are criminal cases. The fact that a justice of the peace cannot rule on criminal offences has many negative consequences for the administration of justice. It fosters a general atmosphere of impunity and irresponsibility. This gives us a starting point for analysing the breakdown of justice in these regions. Unequal access to justice means that it is perceived as something of a consumer good for the privileged, a public service for which one pays. So anyone wishing to take a case to court in Peru needs to be financially secure.

The government’s lack of control over crime frequently leads to villagers taking the law into their own hands. They carry out a lynching in the belief that it is a public health measure, in keeping with an agreement with the authorities. They see it not as a crime, but as a means of addressing a problem in the community, which, moreover, sets an example which protects them against violence in the future. The provincial authorities are aware of these lynchings and other forms of punishment. Officials justify their inaction on the grounds that “these are highland cases… in remote communities where we have no access”.

As a matter of fact, law enforcement through fines and social control arguably harks back to Andean practices that predate the establishment of a modern judicial system. Indeed, legal anthropology attests to the predominance of such forms of law enforcement in most non-European societies.


15 February 2006

Translated from French by Unesco