Sarah Dorman ’18 on working at Dejusticia in Colombia

Sarah Dorman in ColombiaI feel so fortunate to be here at this time, as the peace accords between the FARC and the government are being finalized. It was incredible to be here a couple of weeks ago when an agreement was reached on one of the remaining points for the overall peace agreement, including terms for a bilateral ceasefire and for disarmament of the FARC.  And although no one knows for sure whether a final accord will be signed this summer, it definitely makes for a lot of fascinating conversations, and I have really loved reading and learning about such things as the historical roots of the conflict, previous negotiations with the FARC and other armed groups, and ongoing challenges facing the country.dpp_0013

In addition, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about the work of Dejusticia. Their model of “action-research” is particularly interesting to me. I appreciate how they strive to couple rigorous academic work with hands-on initiatives, such as bringing rights-related litigation and proposing public policy reforms.

I myself have been tackling three research projects throughout the summer, all related to the Special Peace Tribunal that is expected to be set up as part of the final peace accord.  First, I was asked to conduct comparative research on models for judicial administration (including those of the international criminal tribunals, hybrid tribunals, and certain criminal justice systems in Latin America) and to draw out lessons-learned that might be applicable to the Colombian Peace Tribunal.  I am currently working on similar research around guarantees for defendants’ rights. In the coming weeks I will also be looking at how previous tribunals dealing with mass crimes have created space for victims to participate in their criminal justice processes.

Sarah Dorman photo of Bogota

One aspect of life here that I have been grappling with on a day-to-day basis is the fact that Bogota is deeply divided along economic lines: The northern half is known as being very wealthy, with expensive cafes and restaurants, while the southern half is known for being much poorer overall. I understand that crime rates are significantly higher in the southern part of the city, and it is in the southern outskirts of Bogota and up into the surrounding mountains that many internally displaced Colombians have established informal settlements. Living and working in the north myself, I do feel like I’m living in a bubble of wealth and privilege, which I wasn’t particularly expecting before coming here.  In fact, most of the Colombians I know have rarely if ever set foot in the southern half of Bogota, which I find somewhat troubling but perhaps not surprising.

One thing I have particularly appreciated is being able to connect with the network of Harvard alumni living here in Bogota.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting together with two Colombian LL.M.s that I was friends with this last year, as well as another current JD student and a recent Harvard graduate. I am grateful for the experience and knowledge of Colombia that they all are so willing to share with me!