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August 09, 2023

Justice Without Borders: A Short-film Documentary on the Barriers that Migrants and Refugees Face when Accessing Justice in Colombia

In collaboration with the Colombian newsletter El Espectador, ABA ROLI’s USAID-funded program in Colombia, Conectando Caminos por los Derechos (CCD), implemented by ABA ROLI in partnership with Pact International, Freedom House and Internews, developed the short-film documentary Justice Without Borders. The film, through polyphonic storytelling, explores the daunting challenges and lessons learned of the Venezuelan migrant experience to empower vulnerable communities, bridge gaps in access to justice, and promote the protection of their human rights. This program, which ended on June 30, 2023, amplified the voices of migrants, refugees, and returnees as they recall their journey in accessing justice despite the institutional and societal barriers that persist in Colombia. 

Amidst the unfolding migration of the Venezuelan population, certain migrants and refugees, including members of the LGBTQI+ community, women, children, and adolescents, find themselves particularly vulnerable to an array of human rights violations. Notably, the fundamental human rights of migrant, returnee, and refugee individuals in Colombia are compromised, primarily when confronted with an irregular migratory status. This pressing reality underscores the urgent need for comprehensive protection measures and interventions to mitigate the risks they face. 

Justice Without Borders consists of four episodes, each representing a piece of a puzzle that, when put together, tells the resilient story of the migrant, refugee, and returnee population and their journey to defend their human rights in Colombia. Each episode takes place in one of the four target territories of Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali, and Cúcuta, where individuals share their experiences and perceptions of specific cases of Venezuelan migrants that are facing human rights violations and their route to access to justice. Despite the physical distance between each of the highlighted cases, the risks and vulnerabilities faced by these individuals transcend local boundaries, affecting the migrant population at the national level. Gender-based violence, statelessness, and human trafficking, among others are includes as some of the violations depicted.

Furthermore, the polyphonic narration of the documentary is voiced by migrants, refugees, and returnees as well as legal practitioners, public officials, civil society representatives, social leaders, judges, and magistrates of the Colombian Courts. The independent voices harmonize through the polyphonic approach to ensure the creation of a comprehensive resource that serves as a valuable guide for migrants, offering insights into the available avenues for protecting their rights. The thoughtful construction of the short-film documentary serves both as an informative resource for migrants as well as a practical guide, empowering them to navigate the intricacies of institutionality and access the necessary channels for the protection of their fundamental rights. 

I work with migrant women because they face institutional barriers. It is sad that our justice institutions sometimes don’t provide the necessary assistance to these women because they are not Colombian. Regardless of nationality, our rights are inalienable.”

Margarita Márquez

Member of the Gender Legal School in Barranquilla, Colombia

In order to achieve such objectives, the CCD program’s alliance with the renowned Colombian newsletter El Espectador played a fundamental role in the successful production and dissemination of the short-film documentary. El Espectador is the oldest media establishment in Colombia, founded in 1887, and has built a reputation of maintaining its commitment to transparent reporting. It has positioned itself as a guiding beacon of journalism through diligently working towards the advancements of a more inclusive and progressive society. 

Justice Without Borders’ first episode “Migrant women's struggle against gender-based violence in Barranquilla”.  Barranquilla, Colombia. May 2023.

In the first episode titled Migrant women's struggle against gender-based violence in Barranquilla, social leader and distinguished member of the Barranquilla Gender Legal School, Margarita Márquez, narrates how she works with and supports Venezuelan migrant women in their resilient struggle against gender-based violence. Testimonies of civil society organization representatives featured in the episode shed light on the significant obstacles encountered by migrant women when attempting to file official claims of gender-based violence. Unfortunately, according to Márquez, their claims are often denied because of the absence of identification documents, limiting their access to case review and subsequent follow-up. However, the episode also serves as a guide to the remarkable progress achieved thus far. Several civil society organizations and justice sector institutions have recognized the issue and have taken proactive measures to address and raise awareness about the handling of these cases.

Justice Without Borders’ second episode “Playlori: the trans woman who fought for her identity in Medellín”. Medellín, Colombia. May 2023.

The second episode of the series, Playlori: the Venezuelan transgender woman who fought for her identity in Medellin, focuses on the main barriers and challenges faced by the LGTBQIA+ migrant population in Medellín. Securing access to fundamental rights often hinges upon obtaining the Temporary Protection Permit (PPT, acronym in Spanish) which grants regular status to Venezuelan migrants residing in Colombia. Given a recent Colombian Law, transgender individuals are now entitled to obtain the PPT with their chosen name and gender identity. Nevertheless, Playlori’s case demonstrates that barriers continue to hinder the transgender migrant community’s ability to access their fundamental right to protection under the PPT. As she explains the details behind the institutional barriers she has faced, the episode reconstructs the support Playlori received from the Personería of Medellín and the Mujeres sin Fronteras Colombo-Venezolanas Foundation to demand the guarantee of her rights. 

Justice Without Borders’ third episode “The risk of statelessness for migrant children in Cali”. Cali, Colombia. May 2023.

The third episode of the series, The risk of statelessness for migrant children in Cali, explores the issue of statelessness faced by migrant children in Cali, as exemplified by the arduous journey of Derly Silva and her family in their pursuit of Colombian nationality. Statelessness, a grave predicament affecting a many migrant children in Colombia, presents formidable barriers to their ability to access fundamental rights and services. The lack of legal identity in both Colombia and Venezuela serves as a pretext for denying these children essential services such as education and healthcare, further exacerbating their vulnerability. Additionally, the episode recognizes the crucial role of justice sector institutions such as the Ombudsman’s Office, the city’s Personería, and the Family Commissaries, as well as civil society organizations, and Universities’ Law Clinics in the protection of migrants’ rights and guarantee of their access to justice services. 

Every child has access to education regardless of their immigration status and nationality.”

Julieth Diaz

Coordinator of the Integrate Centre Cali

Justice Without Borders’ fourth episode “Human Trafficking: Another challenge affecting the migrant population in Colombia”. Cúcuta, Colombia. May 2023

The final episode of the documentary is Human Trafficking: Another challenge affecting migrant population in Colombia. Human trafficking is a pervasive crime that significantly impacts the migrant, refugee, and returnee population in Colombia, particularly migrant women and girls from Venezuela. A considerable number of migrants, returnees, and refugees arrive in the country with aspirations for improved living conditions and increased security for themselves and their families. However, human trafficking networks often take advantage of this community’s state of vulnerability and subject them to severe forms of exploitation and slavery. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness among potential victims poses a formidable challenge, as many are unaware of how to identify signs of exploitation and recognize their victim status. 

This final episode follows anonymous victims of the trafficking in persons networks as they tell their testimonies about the conditions in which they were captured, transferred, and received in the spaces for their exploitation. Moreover, this segment explores the institutional obligations to adequately respond to the suspicion of a possible human trafficking case by presenting the National Federation of Personerías and the Constitutional Court’s justification the obligation of an adequate response to possible human trafficking cases, regardless of the nationality and migratory status. 

They told me that I was going to work at a nightclub, and that I could not leave until I had paid the money they had spent on me”.

Migrant woman from Venezuela

victim of human trafficking for sexual exploitation

The four-episode documentary series Justice Without Borders portrays the compelling stories of resilience in the journey that migrants, returnees, and refugees, with the support from local leaders, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, legal schools, and defense attorneys, embark to demand the access to justice in the context of migration in Colombia. The relentless efforts from diverse actors to guarantee the migrants’ access to their rights and especially their access to justice, resulted in a guide for other migrants in conditions of vulnerability, that also created a compelling documentation of peoples’ stories of resilience and bravery to overcome the barriers, minimize the gap to access to the justice system, and empower communities in the pursuit of guaranteeing their human rights regardless of nationality.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.