Bibiana Ximena Sarmiento Álvarez
Interviewer: Marcela Torres Molano
Language of interview: Spanish
Country of practice: Colombia
Profession: Law professor at Universidad Externado de Colombia

Bibiana Sarmiento is a Colombian lawyer and professor at Universidad Externado de Colombia. Her interests focus on matters of forced displacement, access to justice in the Colombian conflict, and post-conflict restorative justice. Through a participatory methodology in collaboration with displaced populations her research explores a community-based concept of justice that includes a restorative perspective. A concept that aims to guarantee social, economic, and cultural rights to the participants, instead of applying punishments such as the deprivation of liberty, common to traditional justice.

During our conversation, Sarmiento gives several examples of restorative justice. She focuses on two projects that use institutional spaces for restorative purposes. The first one is a residential house near the city of Bogotá that, despite serving as a temporary home for displaced people, uses a nondescript site with poor spatial conditions, resulting in a lack of a welcoming environment and a feeling of home. Moreover, it is located in a socially deprived area, making access to the house difficult from any point of the city. 

The second case, “La Casita”, located in the centre of Bogotá, is a project that, despite being purposely designed as a welcoming space for restorative practices, has not achieved the dismantling of the hierarchical relations between participants and institutional spaces. According to Sarmiento, as a consequence of architects and designers being generally distanced from alternative justice processes, participants are not provided with an opportunity to have a sense of belonging within the spaces. As such, Sarmiento considers that participants of restorative and transitional justice programs must play an active role in all stages of the process to be able to design, modify and be represented by the spaces. To conclude, she argues for a collaboration between professionals of cultural heritage, architecture, social work, users, and future participants, to work towards the design of adequate, flexible spaces that are open to constant transformation, and nurture reconciliation.