The prospect of talks to try to resolve Latin America’s longest civil war has not lifted the threat of unlawful detention, assault and murder facing human rights lawyers in Colombia, a visit by an international legal charity has heard.

Between 7 August 2010 and 31 May 2012 an estimated 51 human rights lawyers and people associated with them were murdered, Bogota human rights lawyer Alirio Uribe Muñoz told a delegation of 45 solicitors, barristers and judges representing the Colombia Caravana charity.

Colombia Caravana was formed following the 2003 murder by paramilitaries of a lawyer acting for people whose land had been seized. It this month completed its third visit to the country and will report next month.

Colombian lawyers say that the Caravana’s visits, letters of intervention, training and other forms of support have saved lives. The lawyers who hosted the visit in the northern city of Bucaramanga now have two full-time government-supplied minders and three bulletproof vests. Other lawyers, whose needs have been judged to be less pressing, have received a mobile telephone.

None of these measures protected lawyer Yira Bolaños Arturo (pictured), who has endured three terms in prison for ‘rebellion’, which she said involved acting for political prisoners and displaced people. Bolaños said she has lost her home, received death threats and spent two years seeking refuge in neighbouring Venezuela.

Other lawyers said they had been targeted by paramilitaries, with the connivance of the police, army and civil authorities, because in the course of their work they were likely to expose the crimes of powerful people.

  • To read a report of Jonathan Rayner’s visit with the Colombia Caravana, see the Features section.