SEMANA, Rural Justice, November27, 2019

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)


Rural Justice analyzed the instruments that the more than 2.3 million inhabitants of 54 municipalities can use to resolve their conflicts in territories located in the provinces of Chocó, Nariño, Putumayo, Córdoba, Antioquia, and Cauca. In those places, affected by the armed conflict, for every 100,000 persons, there is only one officer of the judicial police, only five judges, and only six prosecutors.

A fight among the neighbors, a domestic dispute, the sexual assault of a minor child, or domestic abuse are some of the conflicts that sprout up every day among the 48.2 million Colombians. However, whether they are because of ignorance or absence of the mechanisms that the justice system provides, many of these problems remain in limbo or end in violent confrontations between victims and their aggressors.

Out in the country, where nearly 10.2 million people live, whether campesinos or indigenous and Afro-Colombian people, the access to the justice system or a person’s ability to turn to a mechanism to settle the case is precarious. For example, there are municipalities that have a very limited supply of legal services. That restricts the protection of people’s rights in those communities when their rights are infringed or violated.

An analysis by Rural Justice, carried out in 54 municipalities located in the provinces of Chocó, Nariño, Putumayo, Córdoba, Antioquia, and Cauca show the pattern of deficiency of mechanisms that the rural population can count on in these areas for the resolution of conflicts. It also shows the shortage of information about the few tools that are present and the principal legal needs with the greatest demand and the least satisfaction.

The study took as its base the municipalities prioritized in the program “Justice For a Lasting Peace” (JSP in Spanish). JSP is financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The niches analyzed are distributed as follows: 15 municipalities in Antioquia, 10 in Chocó, 10 in Nariño, eight in Cauca, seven in Putumayo, and four in Córdoba, with special emphasis in six: Turbo (Antioquia), Puerto Libertador (Córdoba) Condoto (Chocó) Caldono (Cauca), Tumaco (Nariño), and Valle del Guamuez (Putumayo).

The Supply Vanishes

In the 54 municipalities analyzed there are more than 2.3 million inhabitants. Of those, 39% are Afro-Colombian and 11% are indigenous people. They are young territories, since the age range of the population does not exceed 35 years of age. A little more than half live in the urban part of the municipalities and the rest live in the rural areas. Almost half of the population is made up of women.

The supply of legal services, systems for the resolution of a legal problem, has almost disappeared in these territories. Rural Justice concluded that for every 100,000 inhabitants there is only one officer of the judicial police, one official from the Inspector General’s Office, one functionary from Forensic Medicine, one Community Defender, one legal representative of victims, and one from Defenders of the Family.

For that same population there are only two municipal officials, two Units for the Attention to and Complete Reparations to Victims (UARIV in Spanish), two representatives of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF in Spanish), three Public Defenders, 5.2 judges, and six prosecutors.

“These findings are part of the diagram of legal officials of the JPS, according to information updated to March of this year. This backwardness limits access to justice in remote areas that have a past or present experience of armed conflict. It is possible that people don’t recognize these institutions as agencies of support in case of a problem. It is fundamental to be able to count on availability of legal services to resolve legal problems, something that is obviously not happening in these territories,” according to the study by Rural Justice.

Regions With Needs That Are Unfulfilled

Based on a survey of quality of life made by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE in Spanish) in 2016, Rural Justice analyzed the degree of fulfillment of legal needs in the regions that encompass the 54 priority municipalities, such as inability to obtain medicines, authorizations for medical procedures, definition of caloric needs, divorce, scams, frauds, and threats.

According to the survey, in the Pacific region, including Chocó, Cauca, and Nariño, 63.9% of legal needs are unsatisfied, a finding that in Amazonia and Orinoquia (where Putumayo is located) it is 67.4%, and in the Caribbean area (which includes Córdoba) 59% and in Antioquia 56.3%.

These unfulfilled needs are related to problems like health (23.4%), family matters (19.4%) crime (13.9%), fights with neighbors (9.1%) demands for public services (8.7%), debt (7.3%), armed conflict (3.4%).

More than 50% of the population in these areas reported having a legal need. However, almost 62% insisted that the problem was not solved. The areas that led most of the people to seek legal help for their resolution did not have a high level of effectiveness is finding a solution, especially with furnishing health services and crimes related to debt, injuries, threats, robbery, and murder,” concluded Rural Justice.

Lack of Confidence

The level of knowledge about government institutions and the bad reputation of government agencies were among the major factors that limit the people’s access to legal services, especially in the rural areas.

To reach that conclusion, Rural Justice used two ingredients:  a survey of civic culture carried out by the NGO Corpovisionarios (literally, Visionary Corps) in Istmina, Santander de Quilichao, Orito, Francisco Pizarro, Apartadó, and Montelíbano. The survey showed that only 14% of the population have confidence in the judicial branch. The campaign Confía by the North American economic research NGO, ACDI VOCA, after interviewing almost 12,000 people, concluded that the level of confidence in judges and prosecutors is about 13%.

“More than 80% of the population in the rural areas of the 54 municipalities studied believe that the legal system only benefits rich people. Even though the majority believe that the Police (31%), the Mayor (20%), and the Army (11%), are the best administered agencies, more than seven per cent insist that these agencies are in the hands of the illegal armed groups such as paramilitaries, criminal gangs, FARC and ELN. Those ratings are higher than the ratings for the judges (five per cent),” according to SEMANA’s research project.

In the survey, more than 45% of the population insisted that, in order to establish the truth, the black communities ought to be the ones to administer justice, followed by community associations and indigenous and religious authorities. Nearly 93% believe that the ELN ought to receive the greatest punishment, followed by the paramilitaries (59.8%) and the FARC (54.9%).

“That demonstrates that people are choosing the kind of justice that leads to the result they want to obtain and it reflects the people’s beliefs about the purposes of the legal system,” concludes the analysis. It also found that a high percentage of the people surveyed, 46%, agree that the only reason for having a legal system is to punish those who commit crimes. Only 6.7% believe that its purpose is to compensate a person who has been harmed by paying for the damage.

Local Journalism

According to the Foundation for Press Freedom, in the Pacific regions, Amazonia-Orinoquia, Antioquia and the Caribbean, where the 54 priority municipalities are located, there are 120 communications media. Of those, 39% are community or commercial radio stations, 28% are community television channels, three percent are print newspapers and three percent are digital media.

Rural Justice found that Tumaco (Nariño Province) hosts five radio stations and one television station; Turbo (Antioquia Province) has one television station, three radio stations and one print newspaper; and Condoto (Chocó Province) has two radio and one television station. However, the project found that the majority of municipalities in these provinces don’t have sufficient information at the local level. That means that there are areas of silence.

Another finding by the project is that the majority of the people in the priority regions go to meetings with organizations that have more of a religious and community purpose, and not a purpose with official or political shading.

For example, according to the DANE survey of political culture in 2017, 83% of those surveyed in the Caribbean region attended meetings in the local church, a figure that contrasts with the six percent who claimed to have attended a political meeting. In the Pacific this situation showed 79% compared to eight percent and in the Central region it was 72% as against seven percent.

Overview of Municipalities

54 municipalities in six provinces: Chocó, Antioquia, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, and Córdoba

  • 15 in Antioquia: Apartadó, Carepa, Chigorodó, Turbo, Mutatá, Vigia del Fuerte, Briceño, Valdivia, Ituango, Tarazá, Cáceres, Nechí, El Bagre, Caucasia, and Zaragoza.
  • 10 in Chocó: Bajo Baudó, Carmen de Atrato, Riosucio, Unguía, Istmina, Medio San Juan, Nóvita, Tadó, Condoto, and Bojayá
  • 10 in Nariño: Barbacoas, Magüí Payán, Roberto Payán, El Charco, Olaya Herrera, Santa Bárbara, Ricaurte, Francisco Pizarro, La Tola, and Tumaco.
  • 8 in Cauca: Caldono, Caloto, Toribío, Santander de Quilichao, Buenos Aires, Corinto, Miranda, and Jambaló.
  • 7 in Putumayo: Puerto Caicedo, Puerto Guzmán, Puerto Leguizamo, San Miguel, Puerto Asís, Orito, and Valle del Guamuez.
  • 4 in Córdoba: Montelíbano, Puerto Libertador, Tierralta, and San José de Uré/

In the 25 municipalities analyzed in Cauca, Nariño, and Putumayo there are courts, prosecutors, judicial police, and Forensic Medicine.

Putumayo has the lowest percentage of court officials per 100,000 inhabitants: 5.5

Chocó is the only region where there are no judicial police officials.

Córdoba and Lower Cauca and Northern Antioquia have no Forensic Medicine officials.

All of the municipalities have one court and all of the regions have ICBF officials.

The municipalities of Cauca and Lower Cauca and Northern Antioquia lack an official from Defenders of the Family.

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