MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Though he never went to a university to study law, Arturo García, 44, has become an agent who brings justice to the community of Monte Tabor, south of the nation’s capital of Managua.
Despite the demands of his job as a security guard at a financial institution in Managua, García spends his free time working as a crime prevention and conflict mediation volunteer. Through his work, he has prevented many cases from going to trial.
Throughout Nicaragua, there are 3,000 citizens who carry out the same functions as García as members of the judicial facilitator project, according to Marvin Aguilar, vice president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Court of Justice.
The initiative began in late 1998, spearheaded by the Organization of American States (OAS).
“It’s an experiment that’s brought justice to the people,” Aguilar said. “It has helped to resolve conflicts and promote crime prevention, peace, social harmony, coexistence, governability and economic development.”
Aguilar said judicial facilitators have reduced delays in the justice system, resolving more than 50,000 cases – thereby preventing the parties from going to court – since the project started 14 years ago.
Some courts that used to hear as many as 1,600 cases a year now hear 400 as a result of the mediations performed by facilitators.
Aguilar said the service also is an “anti-poverty” strategy, since facilitators resolve conflicts free of charge.
The communities choose their facilitators, who are volunteers.
As part of the “legal literacy” process, they study the country’s penal code to familiarize themselves with the penalties for each offense, Aguilar said.
Of the 3,000 facilitators in Nicaragua, 2,000 work in rural areas and 1,000 in cities. Just 800 more are needed to provide this service to all of Nicaragua, which is considered to be the safest country on the Central American isthmus, according to Nicaragua’s Supreme Court of Justice.
“A full 80% of the population has access to justice through the facilitators, and we want to have one in every neighborhood to reduce crime and complaints,” Aguilar added.
Pedro Vuskovic, the coordinator general of the OAS Inter-American Judicial Facilitators Program, considers the service to be a pillar of democratic governability and a full exercise of human rights.
The experiment in Nicaragua has been exported to Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Argentina and Honduras. In 2013, Costa Rica will begin implementing the program.
“Through the Inter-American Judicial Facilitators Program, the OAS has expanded its cooperation activities and it also has made it possible for us to form closer relationships with judicial institutions in all of these countries,” Vuskovic said.
Vuskovic said the program works with the population to reduce the overall number of conflicts, as well as the number of conflicts that wind up in court. The initiative’s goal is to generate a legal culture based on trust and respect for institutions to overcome the culture of violence and impunity.
The facilitator in the community
One of García’s jobs in Monte Tabor involves communicating with the National Police when residents report suspicious activity.
García said conflicts among neighbors have decreased by 80% in Monte Tabor, which is home to 80 families.
“When there’s a problem, they call me to mediate and put an end to the conflict, whether it’s over a chicken, a fence or anything else,” said García, adding the municipal judge takes his calls 24 hours a day to advise him on legal issues.
“On one occasion, my son was having a drink and he got into an argument with another boy. The conflict escalated to threats, so we had to resort to a facilitator,” said José Alfonso Navarrete Bravo, a 56-year-old Monte Tabor resident. “The facilitator provided a solution for both families and prevented the conflict from escalating. After mediation with the facilitator, the boys calmed down and now they even play soccer together.”
Julio César Espinoza, 39, had a conflict with his wife, but resolved it peacefully through a mediator.
“The facilitator is always working to prevent the occurrence of conflicts in our community,” Espinoza said.