Even for minor disputes between neighbors, residents like María Nelly Criollo of the rural municipality of Chaparral in Southern Tolima had to travel long distances to seek redress from the legal system. For years, the political unrest, tough terrain, presence of illegal armed groups prevented the Colombian justice sector from serving the region on a regular basis. However, the situation recently changed with the help of USAID.
"Before, people had to travel for days to distant urban areas to get the attention they needed. They lost time away from work and had to pay for transportation,” one conciliator said. “Now, people in our communities have access to free, comprehensive and equitable resolution of their problems – and, best of all, they get those services right where they live.”
With USAID assistance, conciliators are now dealing with more than a 100 cases per month. Before the program, conciliators lacked formal training and could only process about 30. Criollo, like the 128,000 other people from her community and three nearby municipalities - Ataco, Rioblanco and Ortega - no longer have to venture far for legal services.
After identifying community leaders who were already practicing some form of mediation in the areas, USAID organized them into community-based committees that began to provide alternatives to the formal justice sector in their areas. They then listened to the disputing parties, consulted with others who were affected by the conflict and negotiated a solution that resolved the dispute to the satisfaction of all concerned.
USAID did not stop there. In 2008, the Agency took the 60 most effective mediators from the region, as determined by their own communities, and trained and certified them as conciliators in equity, capable of providing alternative dispute resolution services as stipulated under Colombian law.
Last updated: August 12, 2013