Written by Alex Kostantopoulos
In the autonomous municipalities of Zapatistas, laws that are passed from the Council of Governance are not enforced by police or a judicial system but through a way that treats offenders as members of the community.
Justice is delivered by the authorities of the Zapatistas. They resolve issues among the members of the community and also between Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas.
If someone commits an injustice, depending on its importance, on the first time a warning is given, the second time compulsory community service is assigned. If the offender repeats the offence, then he/she is headed to the Council of Fair Governance.
Usually, the Assembly of the Commune is called in order to seek the best possible solution and to deliver a fair decision. It looks for a peaceful solution, on the belief that problems are not resolved with violence. It aspires to find common ground between those involved with the aim of mutual forgiveness.
The Zapatistas prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol. In case of intoxication, preceded by a warning, there may be a twelve-hour imprisonment. In case of theft, if there is no great damage, the stolen goods are simply returned. If there is great damage it should be fixed. In case of murder, the convicted must take care of the victim’s family, which from then on share the convict’s patrimony.
There is no monetary bail-out for serious crimes such as theft, murder, rape and extortion. The preferred punishment is usually service in benefit of the community. Imprisonment is not used as a punishment and is only temporary until examination of the matter is done and punishment is issued. The heaviest punishment is to be “ostracized” from the community and the movement.
Their legal justice system is transformative and not punitive. The main goal is to avoid crime and to correct criminals. Compared to western judicial systems the Zapatista system seems to be more humane and more effective.
During their fight against the oppressive government and the national and foreign exploiters, the EZLN passed laws in order to ensure stability in the territories under his control:
I. The civil authorities are democratically elected.
II. The Zapatista law clarifies the rights and the obligations of the civil authorities, the military authorities, the leaders and the officials of the revolutionary army, and the civil populations, in a very understandable and effective way. It must be noted that the same law states that the revolutionary troops and the people must help each other, in anyway needed and possible way. Zapatistas believe in the absolute equality between men and women. Zapatista women have the equal right to occupy positions of leadership and hold high military ranks in the armed forces, something which is unusual in the western society, since these places are man-dominated.
III. According to the law of the Zapatista, the land returns to those who work it. Zapatistas have created laws in order to ensure dignified working conditions amongst the workers. Workers are not regarded as “cheap labour force”.
IV. As far as the Zapatista justice law is concerned, all the prisoners are liberated. There is an exception of those who are guilty of murder, rape and drug trafficking. The preferred punishment is usually service in benefit of the community, which proves that they treat the offender as still productive member of the society and not as an outcast which must be “ostracised”. Imprisonment is not used as a punishment and is only temporary until examination of the matter is done and punishment is issued.
V. The EZLN through the passed laws wants also to ensure good live conditions for all the civil populations living in the territories under his control. The EZLN army wanted to ensure dignified housing for all disposed families. Therefore, in the urban zones controlled by them they enacted a law regarding that matter. In what has to do with the abandoned children, the neighbour families are obliged to take care of them and protect them -under the authority of the EZLN, before they are turned to the civilian authorities.
VI. There is a war tax law* that applies to all the zones controlled by the EZLN.
*It is not obligatory for the civilian population that lives by its own resources, without exploiting any labour whatsoever and without obtaining any advantage from the people. The war tax law is obligatory for those in the civilian population who live by exploitation, by force or through work or who obtain some advantage over the people in their activities. Those small, medium and large capitalists of the countryside and the city can be obligated to obey this law without exception. For them the war tax can vary, according to their wealth, between 7-20% of their monthly income.