To adequately respond to the Venezuelan migration crisis in Colombia, ABA ROLI is implementing the USAID-funded program,Conectando Caminos por los Derechos (CCD), in partnership with Pact International, Freedom House, and Internews. As part of the Human Rights Support Mechanism, ABA ROLI has led outstanding efforts to prevent and respond to human rights violations, including the launching of the ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ initiative. The initiative has two crucial objectives, (1) increasing access to justice services and availability of institutions to vulnerable and marginalized communities, including migrants, refugees, and returnees, and (2) building bridges of community trust in the justice sector institutions to adequately respond to human rights violations in the context of migration.
When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else's oppression, we'll find our opportunities to make real change."
ABA ROLI designed the ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ initiative based on a ‘People-Centered Justice’ model in which justice services become accessible and equally meet the needs of the entire community by enabling people’s effective participation and encouraging their engagement in the processes. This one-of-a-kind initiative aims to invert the traditional attention paradigm - in which individuals must go to institutions to file their claims to access justice - by bringing justice sector services directly on-site to the most vulnerable communities using outdoor public spaces in the community. To do so, justice service fairs are organized throughout the country in neighborhoods, localities, and vulnerable sectors with: (i) highest concentration of the migrants, refugee, and returnee population; (ii) highest rates of violence and human rights violations; and (iii) highest levels of vulnerability.
In partnership with local institutions and government authorities, ABA ROLI supports efforts to bring a variety of justice sector services to the most vulnerable communities in the context of migration. Participating parties include the Attorney General’s Office, Family Police Stations, Child Welfare Agencies, public defenders, Gender Equality Agencies, Alternative Dispute Resolution Units, and the Ombudsman’s Office, among others. This initiative aims to change the mindset of justice sector officials, giving them a first-hand opportunity to hear and respond to the needs of the community. Simultaneously, this initiative is both fostering people’s effective participation in the processes, as well as promoting trust in the institutions as their services become more accessible to marginalized communities.
Under the CCD program, ABA ROLI partnered with local authorities, including Houses of Justice—centralized assistance centers— to provide accessible information, legal guidance, and referral pathways for individuals seeking justice in response to human rights violations. As a result, Justice in your neighborhood services fairs were brought directly and for the first time to vulnerable host communities in both urban and rural areas. This approach was highly beneficial as it eliminated barriers such as transportation or lack of awareness about available services that may prevent migrants and refugees from accessing justice. By reaching out to priority cities along migration corridors, ABA ROLI targeted marginalized areas with potentially higher needs, including Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, and Cúcuta.
No matter our intentions, everything we say and do in the pursuit of justice will one day be outdated, ineffective, and yes, probably wrong. That is the way progress works. What we do now is important and helpful so long as what we do now is what is needed now.”
A commonality among these targeted neighborhoods is that their inhabitants face multiple and intersecting forms of violence, discrimination, inequality, and structural and societal dynamics that lead to diminished and unequal living standards and enjoyment of fundamental rights. Thus, the ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ services fairs became an opportunity for vulnerable and marginalized communities —regardless of their immigration status— to access formal and non-formal justice services, including Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms. Through the strengthening of the rule of law, ABA ROLI promoted awareness among justice sector staff about their roles and responsibilities to guarantee accessible and people-centered services, with a special focus on the differential needs of the most vulnerable communities, including women, children, ethnic groups, and LGBTQI+ people.
Civil society organizations also played a fundamental role during the ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ service fairs, as their active participation was essential to build bridges of trust between the communities (users) and the institutions (providers). Local partner organizations, such as the Federation of Local Personerías (FENALPER for its acronym in Spanish), Fundación Entre dos Tierras, and Fundación Alianzas Solidarias, provided free legal assistance, support or guidance for migrants, refugees, and returnees to access justice services. Furthermore, other civil society organizations, such as Agencia Cultural 7-80, CORPROVID, and ColombiaCheck, performed live pedagogical and cultural activities to raise awareness and foster claims within the communities to report the different forms of violence and human rights violations in the context of migration.
At each service fair, the officials first explained which institutions were participating, where to find them, and the services available for the community. Since there are multiple institutions at each ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ session, the community receives specialized attention from a variety of justice sector institutions in one place, removing the barriers to access justice, as most of these communities live in remote or difficult to access areas and who, due to their high level of vulnerability, cannot afford to travel to an institution to receive legal assistance. Moreover, it is also symbolic for the communities to receive the public officials in their neighborhoods as a statement of justice being brought to vulnerable communities, instead of the communities needing to seek justice outside their territories.
As the Justice Houses continue implementing ‘Justice in your neighborhood’ service fairs they are moving toward a model of self-reliance for once the CCD program support concludes. This initiative continues to build bridges of trust between the justice sector institutions as well as vulnerable and host communities in Colombia. Based on the positive feedback and outstanding results, ABA ROLI anticipates that this model will have a tremendous potential to be replicated in other countries to promote access to justice services for vulnerable communities, especially where migrants, refugees, returnees, and host communities remain marginalized in the region. Thus, lessons learned from this initiative will become a valuable resource to design innovative, people-centered justice strategies to respond to human rights violations through strengthening the rule of law.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.