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Supporting Legal Pluralism in Colombia

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Supporting Legal Pluralism in Colombia

In Colombia, democratic change means that the unique, traditional justice system of the Wayúu indigenous people is strengthened and linked with services provided by the formal justice system. 

The Wayúu have lived in the harsh desert of La Guajira peninsula in northern Colombia for over 500 years. Their vibrant culture includes a normative system based on peaceful coexistence of matriarchal clans. Justice is dispensed by elders called Palaberos or Putchipûu (the ones who carry the word), who are respected in the community for their knowledge of peaceful conflict resolution.

Colombia’s armed conflict has taken a toll on the Wayúu. Drug trafficking and paramilitary groups have moved into Wayúu territory, displacing and terrorizing the population. Scarce resources and the need to find jobs has forced many Wayúu youth to travel great distances in search of jobs, causing a breakdown in Wayúu culture and traditions. Recognizing the need to protect their basic rights and their unique cultural heritage, Akuaipa Waimakat, a Wayúu organization, initiated an inclusive and open discussion about the obstacles to justice and security in La Guajira with the Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice and the La Guajira Office of Indigenous Affairs. Partners-Colombia facilitated this inter-institutional dialogue and supported participation by Wayúu leaders.

Based on this discussion, Partners-Colombia worked with the Wayúu and Colombian officials to educate court personnel and other formal justice system institutions about the Wayúu traditional legal system. In addition, Partners established an indigenous rights school that will help the Wayúu to preserve their culture, establish connections between different organizations and clans, and develop strong local leaders.

With support from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Partners helped the Wayúu gain greater control over their own safety and security, with access to the customary normative system to resolve conflicts within the Wayúu community, as well as greater protection and services from the Colombian justice system. The project complements the Colombian government’s strategy for safeguarding indigenous groups that are in danger of being culturally or physically exterminated. Though Colombia’s struggles with drug trafficking and paramilitary groups will continue to impact the Wayúu in La Guajira, Partners supported local leaders to preserve their culture and community while confronting crime and violence.

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