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Secretary General Insulza touts OAS Judicial Facilitators Program’s role in settling disputes in rural communities in eight Latin American countries

  June 2, 2014

The Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General, Mr. José Miguel Insulza, today hailed the critical role that the hemispheric organization’s Program of Judicial Facilitators plays in dispute settlement in rural communities in various countries of the Americas. Mr. Insulza’s comments came during a presentation on the initiative, at a ceremony held under the aegis of the forty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly, which formally opens in Asunción, Paraguay, on Tuesday.

The Secretary General explained that the facilitators program helps Latin America’s poorest communities promote access to justice for people living far away from urban centers and lacking funds to hire a defense attorney. "Even though the law applies to everyone alike, without distinction, in the administration of justice there are major disparities in access based, for example, on socio-economic status, education, race, or gender, among other factors. An indigenous woman from a rural part of the Americas has needs and opportunities for access that are very different those of a professional man from a big city,” said Mr. Insulza.

Arguing that unbalanced access to justice reinforces economic and social inequality, the head of the OAS said this is because it infringes on the enjoyment of rights in employment, civil, family, or criminal defense matters, in practical terms. He explained that "impunity has a bias that unequally affects the population, focusing on vulnerable populations."

Launched in Nicaragua in the 1990s, with OAS support the program has been extended to several countries of the region since 2007. Beginning in the Central American country already noted, the program now also operates in Argentina’s Corrientes province as well as in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Paraguay. More than 7,500 judicial facilitators are working in the region, 40 percent of them women. An estimated four million Latin Americans now enjoy direct access to justice, thanks to these facilitators.

These are community leaders who are elected by their communities, the OAS Secretary General noted. They participate in the initiative as volunteers, and play a key role in settling disputes and in avoiding violent incidents. "Accurate and timely information, advice, or support for mediation make a very big difference in the lives of thousands,” he said.

“Facilitators help make the justice system more efficient and bring it closer to citizens, while helping countries pursue a more balanced development.”

Insulza described the initiative as one of the hemispheric institution’s most effective. "In 2013 alone, half a million people were served by judicial facilitators, and over 200,000 heard talks," he said.

The President of Paraguay’s Supreme Court of Justice, Raúl Torres Kirmser, said "building and consolidating democracy is no easy task, especially in countries like those of our region, where inequality and poverty indicators remain the hallmarks of a great debt the democratic system owes the people.” He added: “Against that backdrop, the value of justice takes on extraordinary importance in helping to strengthen the democratic system."

Judge Torres Kirmser said the program has been operating in Paraguay since 2008, in collaboration with the OAS. He stated that when the Supreme Court "accepted the challenge of taking part in the program, it did so thinking that involvement and partnership with society civil, the citizenry, and communities would be the proper way forward in facilitating access to justice for everyone." The Paraguayan judge went on to say that "this program proves its worth in stronger social capital; promotes people empowerment; contributes to social peace through conflict prevention and resolution; and strengthens institutional relationships and interactions in community settings."

A number of program participants gave testimonies. Carmen González, a judicial facilitator from Costa Rica, recounted how she was elected at an assembly in her community. “My first job was to help two children whose stepfather had mistreated them,” she said. “Doing this work brings me satisfaction as a woman, because I have helped a lot of women; and I would like to tell them that helping the neediest people gives me a sense of pride.”

Melanio Mora was another facilitator who testified. She was from the Department of Paraguarí, in Paraguay. Mora said she was teacher, and for four years now a judicial facilitator for. “I accepted this work because I am honored to help the humblest and most vulnerable people,” she said, adding that thanks to the work carried out by these facilitators, Justices of the Peace are able to focus on the more complicated cases, and “the people trust judges more.”

The Permanent Observers of Spain, Jorge Hevia; and of the Netherlands, Joris Jurriëns, whose governments are Judicial Facilitators Program donors, agreed with Secretary General Insulza’s comments about the importance of the endeavor to help judicial branches around the region with dispute settlement in communities that are far from urban centers.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-Roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-223/14