Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I am honored to be with you today to open the Third Annual Summit on Community Access to Justice and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the Dominican Republic. As President Obama’s Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, I can think of few topics of greater importance to the United States than justice and inclusivity.
Equal treatment under the law is a fundamental right to which the Obama Administration is firmly committed. As President Obama said during the April 14, 2014 White House Forum on Legal Assistance, “…making legal assistance available to those of low income is central to our notion of equal justice under the law.” Unfortunately, community access to justice, and urgently needed crime prevention and dispute mediation resources, remain inaccessible for many marginalized groups such as poor persons, women, persons with disabilities, and other minorities. There is also a critical shortage of trained and certified mediators and counselors, including specialists in family and gender violence. These challenges, while daunting, are critical opportunities for the United States and the Dominican Republic to continue our strong partnership and success in making the Dominican Republic a more just, equitable and prosperous society. The USAID/DR’s Community Justice House Program exemplifies the success that can be attained through our two countries’ strong partnership.
First launched as a pilot project in Santiago in 2006, the Community Justice House program is today one of the most successful USG investments in strengthening the rule of law in the DR. Designed and implemented in partnership with our hosts today – the Attorney General and the NGO Participación Cuidadana (PC) – the Community Justice House Program has since grown to five justice houses. More than 15,000 people are served annually and, since 2006, 125,000 people have been helped. The core Casa services of Alternative Dispute Resolution, legal aid, and family and gender violence guidance would not be possible without the hard work and commitment of the Attorney General, civil society and local communities, which have provided the office space and personnel required to operate each Casa, and now cover 75% of the total operating costs of the program.
Additionally, the program has been successful in combatting violence, as it gives the most vulnerable citizens access to services which address inequities and help them resolve problems. Finally, the Community Justice House program has been highly successful because it addresses a great need in poor communities. However, many still do not have access to justice and these services, so we must push harder to ensure we provide these services to everyone.
I would like to close my remarks with a quote from President Obama during his December 2008 commemoration of World Human Rights Day: “…the United States was founded on the idea that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights, regardless of social or economic status. The right to due process and equal treatment under the law, regardless of status, is central to this idea.”
It is my honor to be with you today and you have my commitment from the United States that we will be beside you in the goal of everyone having access to the legal services they deserve.