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6. Action, Resolution, and Fairness

Image – Inclusive Justice Activity

86% of people take some kind of action to resolve their problem, which ranges from unilateral actions to going to a third party. 43% of those people talk with the other party in an effort to solve the problem. 

Those who did not take any action were asked why. Thirty percent of people did not take action either because the procedures were too difficult (15%) or because they did not know what to do (15%). These were followed by not having enough money (13%). 

Sources of Help

In this section of the survey, participants were asked questions only about the problem they rated as the most serious.

When it comes to their most serious problem, eight out of ten people took one or more actions to resolve their problem. Out of those who took action, the majority reported that they went to an acquaintance for help when they had a legal problem.

Almost half of the participants reported that the source of help they went to was very helpful; for certain sources, like acquaintances and lawyers, this rate was over 50%. However, one out of three people said the justice provider they went to wasn’t helpful, or worse; the most reported helpfulness option was “very unhelpful”.

Qualitative Context

Many experiences with justice providers are reported to be helpful, but when they are not, they are felt as significantly negative. In order to give some context to people’s experiences with seeking help for their problems, the three follow-up qualitative interviews focused mainly on the sources of help and the person’s justice journey. This provided a deeper understanding of the experiences of some Colombians when dealing with justice matters. Caution is advised as three interviews are not representative, generalisable or sufficient to cover the whole picture of people’s justice journeys.

Interview Participants*

*Participant names have been changed to protect their anonymity.

When asked where he would go first for help with a legal problem, Pacho reported that he would typically go to friends, or the Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo). He understands that the Ombudsman’s role is to help solve the needs of regular citizens. However, he feels that this office is not always accessible. Regarding the documentation problem he reported in the survey, Pacho shared that he found the support he received from the people at the Conflict Victims Unit was slow and inefficient. The first official he spoke with did not know the correct procedures to resolve his issue and was not helpful. Despite this, he eventually found an official who took his problem seriously and was able to resolve it. 

As a whole, when reflecting on the available sources of help, Pacho thinks that there is not enough information available for people about the processes and what can be done for their problems. He feels that sometimes authorities themselves do not know what the correct procedures are, or are not able to direct and counsel citizens. 

Teo reported that when facing a legal problem he would typically go to the police first because they are the ones who solve serious problems. When trying to resolve his reported problem, Teo found both the police and the people at the Women’s Secretariat to be unhelpful and the process to be exhausting. His goal was for his case to be heard and a process to be started whereby measures would eventually be taken against the aggressor. He really wanted to have an authority overseeing the process and ensuring this would happen. He was able to report and denounce the problem, but a legal process was not started, and there were no consequences for the aggressor. At the time of the interview, Teo’s problem remained unresolved and was abandoned. 

Teo shared that in the past, he had problems where he chose to directly work with the other party. In these cases, he had much better experiences. He felt that by talking and listening to the other party, he was able to avoid escalating the problem and achieve a reasonable solution. 

In Mari’s case, the person attending her and the victim at the town hall sent her to the Secretariat for Social Development (Secretaria de Desarrollo Social), a local authority which falls under the municipal mayor’s office. The official at this office then sent her to the Family Commissariat, who focuses on supporting families in cases of domestic violence. 

Mari found that while the people at both the town hall and secretariat gave guidance, it was not very clear. Officials at both offices spoke in highly technical terms and gave advice based on general laws, but could not give advice for the victim’s specific situation.  Unfortunately, when Mari and the victim subsequently went to the Family Commissariat, no one was in the office. The victim had travelled to the urban centre of the municipality from a remote area and only had one day to report and resolve her problem. 

As a result of having to move from institution to institution, as well as the Family Commissariat not having anyone to attend to her; the victim was not able to properly begin a resolution process. Through official institutions, this problem is now abandoned. However, Mari reports that the victim has received some support through community channels. Her neighbours, who witnessed the violence, were able to intervene and aid her in getting physical distance from the aggressor. Unfortunately, this is not a resolution that the victim is satisfied with as it is not enforceable, and she remains in a difficult financial situation as the aggressor is not legally obligated to pay child support.

Interviewees were also asked what they knew about the Casas de Justicia12, Family Commissariats, and Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms (ADR) such as reconciliation. Pacho and Teo both said they knew of certain offices, but have not gone to them because they heard these offices can only help with very specific problems. 

Mari, on the other hand, who is from a more rural municipality, said that the Casas de Justicia and Conflict Resolution Mechanisms were just a dream for her community, as she says they only exist in the bigger cities and towns. She feels that justice in very small municipalities of Colombia is difficult to access because these institutions are not present, and many people do not have two or three days to travel to bigger towns with more institutions. Mari shared that in rural areas the police end up being the main actors responding to all issues. She would prefer to have civil actors who exist in or come to, the rural areas, who understand the community dynamics, and who know how to resolve problems. 

These experiences demonstrate some of the challenges people face when trying to access help and resolve their problems. Above are cases where the person knows the correct institution to go to, seems to have an understanding of the various local justice institutions and their mandates, but still struggles to achieve justice in a manner that is accessible, timely, and satisfactory. This suggests that the presence of justice mechanisms in communities, large or small, is not enough if they are not accompanied by clear understandable processes and ways of working. It is valuable that people already have knowledge of the institutions present in their territories, but knowledge does not guarantee utilisation. In order for people to make use of these services, the processes ought to be centred on the needs and experiences of people, allowing them to feel that the resolutions they seek are attainable. 


[12] The Casas de Justicia (Houses of Justice) are “one stop shop” community venues with various legal service providers available to give information on rights and legal advice; conflict resolution services; administrative services; and formal justice services. Learn more: