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Last Updated:9/6/00
Background Briefing by an unnamed senior administration official, August 30, 2000
THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary (Cartagena, Colombia) ________________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release August 30, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON THE PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO COLOMBIA

Cartagena Conference Center Cartagena, Colombia

10:03 A.M. (L)

MS. CHITRE: Good morning. A senior official for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Colombia will speak to you on background about the Casa de Justicia program in the context of AID's Administration of Justice program.

Casas de justicia are judicial centers that bring a variety of judicial services to low-income neighborhoods and marginal communities in Colombia. President Clinton will visit one of Colombia's 11 existing casas de justicia this afternoon.

This official will speak to you and answer your questions, all on background.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. I've made some notes, and I'll speak from some notes, because I'd like to make sure I touch on all of the important points. Before I get into the details of the Casa de Justicia, the Justice House program, let me just put it into a broader context, because I think it's important.

I'm sure you're all aware that President Pastrana crafted a $7.5-billion national development strategy, it's called Plan Colombia. It's an integrated plan, 75 percent of which will be dedicated to social sector investment, and 25 percent is dedicated to military spending. It's designed to address the root causes of the problems that have affected Colombia over the past 40 years.

One of the principal pillars of Plan Colombia is reform modernization of the justice sector. And the U.S. government, through the AID program, is supporting judicial sector reform, helping to make the system more effective, modernizing it, more responsive, helping to reduce impunity, improve access to justice, and prevent and reduce violence.

AID is working in a variety of aspects of modernization of justice sector reform. The justice houses, the Casa de Justicia program, is a modest but very important component. It's a high-impact piece of USAID and Colombia strategy. The justice houses are low-cost; they're practical; they're quick mechanisms at resolving conflicts and disputes, most of which are intra-family disputes.

The centers that have been operating -- this is the 11th one that's going to be inaugurated today -- they enjoy an excellent reputation because they get results. They have a very enthusiastic following in the neighborhoods where they operate. They're located in low-income neighborhoods of principal and secondary cities in Colombia.

The Cartagena House that you're going to see in just a little while, as I said, is the 11th in a growing national network of casas de justicia. The average cost of a casa de justicia is less than $100,000. The one in Cartagena that's going to be inaugurated today costs only about $60,000, and I think you'll find it impressive. It's in a marginal area of the city with a population of about 70,000 people in Chinquinquira, the barrio of Cartagena. It's a low-income neighborhood.

The houses are designed to resolve problems and disputes through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. They deal with everything from child abuse to abandonment, to spousal abuse, juvenile delinquency, drugs, gang violence in the neighborhoods, property rights disputes, maintenance payments for families that are separated, child support payments, disputes and conflicts between neighbors. They even get involved in resolution of traffic accidents and personal injury problems.

The casa is an interagency mechanism. You will find up to 14 different institutions, representatives of institutions, both national and local, working in a casa de justicia and complementing one another in working together.

Examples of the kinds of people that work in a casa de justicia would be someone from the prosecutor's office, someone from the public defender's office, human rights ombudsmen, social workers, psychologists, doctors, trained conciliators, law students who provide free legal aid, and that's kind of an example of the mix of people who attempt to resolve the kinds of problems that come to their attention.

The way that a house is identified for construction is that the ministry of justice and a municipality will sign an agreement; the municipality will provide the land; the ministry of justice will request U.S. government-USAID assistance in construction or rehabilitation of the site; and AID will come and basically reconstruct or build a casa de justicia, furnish it, provide the computers, train the people who work there, and do continual monitoring, oversight and evaluation of the impact of the program.

Many of the costs are borne by the municipality, and there is a tremendous commitment on the part of the local mayor in each of the cities and at the national level the ministry of justice. It's a very good example of how institutions work together, both national and local institutions and get results.

One house, on average, is able to resolve about 34,000 cases a year. Those are 34,000 cases that would otherwise probably end up in the formal judicial system and exacerbating problems of overloaded sort of case loads, and overtaxing a system that's already delayed. So I think it helps by providing access, it also helps by keeping cases out of the formal judicial system that can be resolved through other dispute resolution means.

We're expecting to have about 29 or 30 casas de justicia operating by the end of 2001, by the end of next year. And at that point, we believe we'll be able to resolve approximately 1 million cases a year, which is really quite impressive for the level of investment that AID is providing.

I think the impact on judicial sector reform in Colombia is going to be -- it's really quite an improvement. The services are free, and the cost to the government of resolving a case -- these are estimates that the Colombian government has put together -- but the cost of resolving a case through the casa de justicia is somewhere in the neighborhood is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 or $2 per case, versus about $100 a case if it goes through the formal system. This is the cost to the government. The cost to the beneficiary, of course, is much greater if it goes through the formal system versus basically free access at a casa de justicia.

This is a model program. It can be replicated throughout the country, and there is no reason why it can't be replicated throughout the hemisphere. These are the kinds of problems one finds virtually worldwide. We have conciliation centers and counseling centers in the United States. They're very effective, and they've been very effective here as well.

Let me just close by saying in my experience with AID, I have not seen a program that impacts on so many people so quickly in areas of such importance to these people in their daily lives with such a modest investment of funding. I think also, this is the kind of program that places a human dimension, a human face, on Plan Colombia, and that's an area that is sometimes overlooked. But it is a program that impacts very directly on the people that most need assistance, and that is a very important component of Plan Colombia.

I'd be happy to answer a few questions if I can.

Q Will the money to build these come out of -- I didn't understand whether this is actually part of Plan Colombia funding.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The program started before Plan Colombia came about. We've spent already $1 million on construction of these 11 houses. There's another $1 million available that's not Plan Colombia, and there's a third million dollars that is a part of Plan Colombia. So the total anticipated right now to put the 30 houses, make them operational, is $3 million, $1 million of which would be Plan Colombia money.

Q Do you have any similar programs in other countries in Latin America?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Similar programs? I'm not aware of any, but I think there may be something similar in Central America, but I'm not sure it's exactly the same. But I think mediation conciliation is becoming sort of a common practice. Whether they call them casas de justicia and they work exactly the same, I'm not sure.

But this is a beautiful program just because it brings so many of the actors together, and they all play a role in solving the various kinds of problems, ranging everything from violence that may have to be referred up to more formal systems to just disputes that can be resolved just by an arbiter.

Everybody's tired. Okay, thanks.

END 10:20 A.M. (L)

As of September 6, 2000, this document was also available online at http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri-res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/2000/8/30/3.text.1

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