A 17-year-old suspected rapist was buried alive in Bolivia on Thursday.
The rape and murder of a 35-year-old woman in the rural Potosi province of Bolivia threw an entire village into mourning. Then, as police identified 17-year-old Santos Ramos as a potential suspect, the grief grew into anger and vengeance.
According to eyewitness accounts, several villagers kidnapped Ramos and took him to the victim’s funeral. There, after the ceremony, the villagers tied Ramos up and threw him into the open pit that had been dug for the coffin. They placed the coffin on top of him and proceeded to fill the pit with dirt, burying Ramos alive.
Police in the area caught wind of this plot, but by the time they arrived, over 200 villagers had taken up the cause. Community members prevented police and prosecutors from reaching the grave site by blocking the road with their bodies.
This kind of communal judgment may seem unusual and barbaric to outsiders, but to rural Bolivians, it’s often the only form of justice they have. Police and judicial authorities are rare in these areas, and they are often unwilling to help even when called upon. Therefore, the community usually has to handle judgments and sentencing itself, which often results in lynchings and violent assaults thanks to mob mentality. Just this past Wednesday, Potosi province also saw another village stone and burn to death two men who had been found guilty of robbery and murder.
The cost of this vigilantism, however, is justice itself. Last year, a Bolivian mob accidentally killed a policeman because they mistook him for a thief. The case received attention because it occurred in a city and the victim was a reputed citizen, but similar cases occur all the time in the rural areas and are ignored. Similarly, whether or not Ramos was the real rapist is a matter that will surely go overlooked, as the villagers have already dealt punishment and it is unlikely police will continue their investigation.