La VII Caravana Internacional de Juristas recorre esta semana del 20 al 28 de agosto diferentes zonas de Colombia para conocer de primera mano los riesgos que enfrentan en este país abogados y defensores de los derechos humanos.
El equipo de la Caravana está conformado por 18 juristas internacionales y expertos en Derechos Humanos de 11 países, incluidos miembros de la Fundación Abogacía, como integrante del Observatorio Internacional de la Abogacía en Riesgo (OIAD).
Esta iniciativa, organizada por ‘Colombian Caravana’, se celebra desde el año 2008 de manera bianual. En esta edición se visitarán las regiones de Bolívar, Norte de Santander, Santander y Valle del Cauca.
La Defensoría del Pueblo, órgano del Estado colombiano, ha informado de que 122 defensores de derechos humanos han sido asesinados entre enero y julio de 2022. Por ello, la misión de este viaje es analizar las amenazas sufridas por este sector y abogar por su protección.
Esta visita de la Caravana se produce en medio de una coyuntura complicada, debido al incumplimiento del Acuerdo Final de Paz firmado en 2016. Desde entonces se ha dado una agudización de las masacres, del desplazamiento forzado en territorios indígenas, afrocolombianos y rurales, así como una criminalización del derecho a la protesta tras el estallido social de 2021.
La delegación se reunirá con autoridades regionales y nacionales del nuevo gobierno presidido por Gustavo Petro con el fin de abordar los desafíos e inquietudes respecto a la seguridad de los abogados y abogadas.
Maria Alejandra Garzón Mora is a human rights lawyer and member of the Asociación Red de Defensores y Defensoras, DH Colombia. DH Colombia aims to promote, disseminate, protect and defend human and peoples’ rights. It is an interdisciplinary group that provides comprehensive defence for victims of human rights violations, both individually and collectively.
The Observatory has received information about numerous threats to the lawyer María Alejandra Garzón Mora from September 2020 to date, with a higher frequency in 2021. The lawyer is the victim of various attacks: cyber-attacks, constant surveillance, as well as verbal attacks. The threats received are directly aimed at her work as a legal representative of the victims of the protests that took place in Colombia as part of the national strike in April 2021.
The lawyer is subject to constant monitoring and surveillance, both by police officers and by strangers near her home and office. In addition, María Alejandra is subject to cyber-attacks, telecommunications breakdowns and interception of calls with clients, colleagues and family members. The incidents occur most often in the context of hearings or crucial dates in cases in which she represents interests as a lawyer. These attacks constitute a serious breach of professional secrecy and impede the free and independent exercise of the profession.
Due to her high level of risk and insecurity, Alejandra Garzón began to benefit from the protection regime granted by the Investigation and Indictment Unit (hereinafter, UIA), an entity belonging to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), in March 2021. Faced with the UIA’s decision to reduce the protection measures in February 2022, the lawyer filed a guardianship application with the JEP. The guardianship ruling SRT-ST-088/2022 of 16 May recognised the extraordinary risk suffered by the lawyer and invited the UIA to reassess the lawyer’s status within two months. Until the new risk assessment is carried out, the protective measures initially adopted will be maintained.
Following the assassination of Paraguay’s Marcelo Pecci while honeymooning in Colombia, two other crimes have hit Latin American prosecutors in the last days of May.
Honduran State Attorney’s Office has declared three days of mourning following Friday’s assassination of Special Environmental Prosecutor Karen Gabriela Almendarez Herrera from the city of Nacaome in the El Salvador-bordering department of Valle.
The head of the Specialized Prosecutor Unit Against Corruption Networks, Luis Javier Santos, published that: “Prosecutor ”Ranger“ that is how they have called those of who have been assigned to a local Prosecutor’s Office.” He added that “Almendarez, was a ‘Ranger’ Prosecutor, a true heroine, a dreamer, an idealist.”
Almendarez, aged 39, was murdered Friday in Nacaome’s El Chagüite neighborhood. She was shot while she was opening the gate to her home when returning from the gymnasium at night. According to uncorroborated sources, she was the sister of a high-ranking officer of the Honduran Armed Forces.
On May 16, PBI-Colombia tweeted: “Last week PBI accompanied @Ccajar during the public hearing held in @CorteIDH [the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] in the case Members of the “José Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers Corporation v. Colombia. See more information about the audience here.”
The hearing took place on May 12-13 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
On May 11, PBI-Colombia also tweeted:
“@CorteIDH [the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] calls #Colombia to judge surveillance and illegal intelligence against human rights defenders @Ccajar whom we have accompanied since 1995. We express our deep admiration and solidarity for their tireless work in defense of human rights and search for justice so that #NoSeRepita [there is no repetition].”
“For the first time, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) will try a case involving illegal surveillance and intelligence on human rights defenders.
This is the case brought by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Cajar), which has denounced being a victim of persecution practices for more than 30 years, in which its members have been the focus of illegal intelligence activities by different State agencies, stigmatizing speeches, threats, attacks, exiles, smear campaigns, psychological torture and harassment.”
On the first day of the hearing, CCAJAR tweeted:
“In the worst years of persecution we felt that the organization was going to end. Half of the lawyers of @Ccajar had to go into exile. We always appeared on lists of threats from paramilitary groups.”
Along with the workaday perils of practising law that they share with their male counterparts, such as being gunned down in the street, Colombia’s women lawyers face threats that are particular to them. They could be raped, for example, or suffer another form of sexual assault that aims to intimidate and discourage them from doing their job – which is representing and protecting the vulnerable through the rule of law. Also, women lawyers’ children may be threatened with violence or press ganged into a guerrilla army, where the only subject on the curriculum – Marxist precepts apart – is how to kill.
These are some of the stark truths to emerge from this year’s Day of the Endangered Lawyer (24 January) panel discussion chaired by Law Society international human rights adviser Doctor Marina Brilman. Previous discussions have looked at other countries where the rule of law no longer holds sway, such as Azerbajan, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt. This year’s focus is on the South American republic of Colombia, where the 2016 peace agreement was supposed to have ended the 60 year conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the state.
The conflict claimed around 262,000 lives, displaced 6.9m people, saw around 18,000 children forced to join armed groups and many thousands more people ‘disappeared’, raped or tortured. The optimism engendered by the agreement has failed to bear fruit, as the three Colombian lawyers on the panel report.
Dora Lucy Arias Giraldo is a member of Colombia’s leading human rights lawyers’ collective. She begins: ‘The Colombian constitution states that it is the duty of lawyers to promote human rights and represent the vulnerable. And yet the government, working through its own intelligence organisations, has an active strategy of diminishing and weakening our operations through attacks on our children and sexual violence against our (women lawyers’) bodies.’ She concedes: ‘There are protection measures in place regarding gender, but they are under-funded – a particular problem when trying to bring powerful economic players to justice.’
Ana Maria Rodriguez, who is also a human rights lawyer, warns that Colombia’s ‘entire existence as a social justice state’ is under threat. She points to recent ‘reforms’ that were designed specifically to weaken the remit of both public prosecutors and the ombudsman, while increasing the power of the executive to turn a blind eye to government corruption.
Lawyers are being arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted and convicted, as well as forcibly disappeared and even killed in countries across the world because of their work upholding the rule of law, the Law Society of England and Wales said to mark the day of the endangered lawyer on 24 January.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We honour the courage and commitment of lawyers around the world who put their lives at risk so that people’s rights are protected and those who violate them are held accountable.
“Today we think particularly of our colleagues in Afghanistan who helped build the justice system and bring stability to the country under the former government. Since the Taliban took power some have tragically been killed because of the work they did, a few managed to escape, but far too many are in hiding, at risk from not only the Taliban but also from terrorists and criminals they convicted since released from prison.
“The Law Society stands in solidarity with legal professionals around the world. We will continue to work to support them and to contribute to building strong, fair justice systems everywhere.”
On December 6, PBI-Colombia tweeted: “Attention: Yesterday, December 5, the #DDHH [human rights] organizations accompanied by PBI @Ccajar and @Movicecol victims of state crimes. Urgent progress in investigations into those responsible and guarantees were threatened for political participation.”
CCAJAR has also tweeted: “We demand that @FiscaliaCol investigate, prosecute and punish the authors of this pamphlet. Never until today have the so-called ‘Black Eagles’ been identified. There are serious indications that these threats are acts of illegal intelligence from state agencies.”
El Espectador lists the 20 people named in the pamphlet. And Infobae quotes the pamphlet that states: “We continue with the civic and patriotic work of cleaning our homeland of leftist garbage, environmentalists and human rights defenders who intend to change the government from social networks and through indoctrination to the masses as they could not take power by arms…”
Contagio Radio further reports: “On Sunday morning, a pamphlet was released in which the so-called ‘Black Eagles’ associated with far-right sectors threatened several members of the Historical Pact and Victims’ movements such as MOVICE and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, as well as members of the First Line [Primera Linea].”
With a constantly evolving and fast-paced news agenda, human rights issues do not always make the front page. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to highlighting human rights abuses across the world and holding those accountable to justice. At the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC48), the IBAHRI joined other non-governmental organisations in statements condemning international human rights violations, with a particular focus on lawyers under attack, facing arbitrary detention or suppression of their professional activities.
Afghanistan: Since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021, gross and systematic human rights violations continue to occur in Afghanistan, including attacks against female lawyers and judges. In partnership with a number of other NGOs, the IBAHRI released a joint open appeal to UN Member States to urge the adoption of a resolution creating a Fact-Finding Mission, or other independent investigative mechanism, for Afghanistan. The IBAHRI welcomes the new agreement of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to appoint a special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe human rights violations by parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, as an important first step towards achieving oversight, accountability, justice and reparation for the ongoing crisis.
Belarus: The legal profession in Belarus is under threat, with attacks against lawyers on the rise. Most recently, Maxim Znak, lawyer for a former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, was sentenced to a ten-year prison term following a closed-door trial. During the UN Interactive Dialogue the IBAHRI delivered an oral statement on behalf of several NGOs on the human rights situation in Belarus. The IBAHRI condemned the deterioration of the situation on the ground and stressed that the HRC must take action to prevent a further decline. The IBAHRI would welcome full support for the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus through adequate funding, as well as an examination of the situation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.