Colombian lawyers under threat, report claims
Six judges, 12 prosecutors and 334 defence lawyers were murdered in Colombia’s ‘judicial war’ between 2003 and 2009, a report by a delegation of British and international lawyers has claimed.
The report, published last week, found that Colombian lawyers still live in constant fear of assassination, and of verbal and physical threats from guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and members of the armed forces.
Their offices are broken into, with personal computers and sensitive information stolen, it said.
Compiled with the support of the Law Society and other international bodies, the report added that lawyers are also stigmatised by public authorities, which brand them as guerrilla members or sympathisers because of the work they carry out defending clients.
Soldiers and others who commit offences are frequently allowed to do so with ‘impunity’, it said.
The report’s authors called on the Colombian government to ‘eradicate the impunity that exists in numerous cases’, to respect the work of human rights lawyers, and ‘publicly value’ the work of judges, lawyers and human rights defenders.
Colombian lawyer Reinaldo Villalba Vargas (pictured), who spoke at the launch of the report at Chancery Lane, told the Gazette: ‘We are systematically persecuted because the state characterises our work defending human rights as a judicial war against the state.
'It is not a judicial war. We are simply using the legal tools available to us to establish justice.
‘Our clients are people who have been the target of forced disappearances, torture and executions.
'They come from the four million displaced persons in Colombia, who have been forced to abandon seven million hectares of land so that powerful groups can exploit the land’s mineral and agricultural wealth. We are fighting against the culture of impunity.’
Sara Chandler, chair of the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers group, said: ‘Defending human rights in Colombia puts lawyers at risk of harassment, physical attack and assassination.
'I was dismayed by how much support is needed.’
The report was compiled by 57 lawyers from 15 countries, including 17 from the UK, who visited Colombia last August in a follow-up visit to the first Caravana in 2008.
The Gazette reported last September that permission for delegates to inspect Colombia’s overcrowded and violent prisons had been withdrawn by the Colombian government after the Caravana arrived in the country.
Read the full report at the Peace Brigades site.