"Some rural areas in Colombia have been somewhat forgotten, and our intention is to address this by improving access to justice in these regions. It's crucial to build trust within these communities, so they can have confidence in judicial decisions, not only due to transparency but also because of the unique and tailored approaches in these decisions.”
Magistrate Gloria Stella López
Superior Judicial Council, Colombia
In Colombia, the judicial system faces multiple challenges when responding to organized crime and meeting the demand for access to justice, particularly in rural areas. To address these pressing needs, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is currently implementing the Strengthening the Judicial Practice in Rural Areas of Colombia Program. This is a 36-month initiative funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), implemented in partnership with the Colombian Superior Judicial Council, and assistance from the Federal Judicial Center (FJC). The primary goal of this program is to provide technical assistance aimed at enhancing the skills of the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on cases associated with organized crime.
Launch Event of ABA ROLI’s Rural Justice Program Highlights Video.
Riohacha, Colombia. September 22nd, 2023.
As part of our commitment to strengthening the Rule of Law in Colombia, ABA ROLI hosted the official launch of the Rural Justice Program on September 22nd, 2023, in Riohacha, La Guajira. The event was livestreamed and accessible internationally through ABA ROLI's YouTube channel. During the opening remarks, ABA ROLI, INL, the Superior Judicial Council, and the FJC collectively reiterated their commitment to promoting the Rule of Law and strengthening the judicial performance in Colombia. As a result of their collaborative efforts, the Rural Justice Program will not only improve the efficiency and efficacy of the judiciary, but also bridge the gaps in access to justice in marginalized and remote rural areas. Learn more about the launch event.
"From the U.S. Embassy, we believe that the ability of the Colombian judiciary to handle criminal cases effectively and efficiently is essential for the successful transition and development of rural areas in the country. The prioritized inclusion of rural communities in the justice sector's service offerings contributes to the reduction of nationwide inequality gaps.”
Director of Rule of Law Division at INL, Colombia
These perspectives were further explored and reflected upon in the panel discussion titled, "Challenges of Justice in Rural Areas of Colombia". The panel featured a diverse group of high-level panelists, enriching an already fascinating discussion: (i) Magistrate Gloria Stella López of the Colombian Superior Judicial Council, offering a national justice-sector perspective; (ii) Silvana Stanga, ABA ROLI’s Senior Technical Advisor, contributing an international perspective; (iii) Silvia Helena Hoyos, Director of La Guajira Regional Attorney’s General Office, providing a regional approach; and (iv) Soraya Escobar, Ombudsman for La Guajira, speaking from a regional perspective.
During the discussion panel, moderated by Juan Manuel Zarama, Deputy Director of the Rural Justice Program, experts and local officials shared their perspectives, reflections, and recommendations for advancing the strengthening of justice in rural areas of Colombia. This included efforts to overcome structural barriers related to rural justice and to build bridges of trust between vulnerable communities and the justice system, considering each population's judicial and social needs. As Magistrate López emphasized, addressing these needs requires a thoughtfully coordinated inter-institutional response, wherein public officials incorporate intersectional and differential approaches, including gender and ethnic perspectives. This approach is essential to providing accessible institutional services to improve opportunities for justice to rural communities.
"We must highlight the collaborative efforts of Prosecutors, Ombudsmen, Judges, and other justice sector officials in identifying the judicial needs of these populations. By harmoniously understanding these needs across all institutions, we can determine each institution's responsibilities and work together to find solutions to the challenges in rural areas.”
Magistrate Gloria Stella López
Superior Judicial Council, Colombia
Furthermore, experts addressed the challenge of developing a judicial education program which effectively caters to the unique needs of each rural territory. The Criminal Justice System requires specialized training to equip judges and court personnel with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary for resolving disputes or cases of complex crimes committed by those conducting organized crime, which has been found to disproportionately impact rural communities. Panelist Dr. Stanga commented that through ABA ROLI's Systematized Judicial Training Model, the content of their training programs is derived from findings gathered through focus groups. These focus groups aim to identify the specific requirements of judges and court personnel within their respective territories. In fact, as part of the needs assessment phase of the project, the Rural Justice Program in Colombia is currently in the process of developing focus groups in the prioritized departments.
Furthermore, Dr. Hoyos pointed out, rural communities suffer vulnerabilities caused or exacerbated by organized crime, resulting in an additional challenge to the criminal justice system and institutional response. In the department of La Guajira, a peninsula on the Colombian Caribbean Coast that shares borders with Venezuela, an ethnic approach is fundamental to address these challenges, given that more than 38% of the population is indigenous, primarily from the Wayúu community (). Dr. Escobar also addressed the challenge of coordinating between indigenous jurisdictions and ordinary jurisdictions. She emphasized the need for effective coordination between these two jurisdictional systems, with a specific focus on how indigenous communities can be integrated into the institutional framework and the criminal justice system.
Indigenous communities have distinct cultural particularities. When we accompany them, provide guidance, and offer them access to justice routes so that they can engage with the judicial system, we aim to deliver justice as promptly as possible.”
The Rural Justice Program in Colombia includes interventions designed to support judges in effectively evaluating and determining cases involving complex crimes related to organized transnational crime. Through a holistic approach, ABA ROLI is focused on enhancing the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes of judges and court personnel. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on training judicial instructors to strengthen their capacities to tailor educational opportunities to the specific needs identified by the judiciary. Across various initiatives in targeted territories, including Antioquia, Arauca, Chocó, La Guajira, Nariño, and Norte de Santander, ABA ROLI aims to improve the efficiency of judicial case administration in cases involving prioritized crimes. In turn, this will contribute to reducing this will contribute to reducing the frequency in which crimes are committed without fear of punishment, harm, or loss, and will enhance the effectiveness of the legal processes that respond to these cases.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s Strengthening the Judicial Practice in Rural Areas of Colombia Program.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.