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International community must stand up for human rights in Colombia

'Colombian peace process cannot work unless founded on the rule of law,' say lawyers

29 April 2015

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Lawyers and judges from across the globe are to urge the international community to stand up for victims of human rights abuses in Colombia, including lawyers killed for carrying out their work.

The Colombia Caravana UK Lawyers Group has raised concerns over the use of Colombian military justice for crimes normally tried in civilian courts, and about how transitional justice can ensure truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of human rights violations.

During a week-long investigation, a delegation of some 70 lawyers from 121 countries visited seven regions of Colombia, taking first-hand testimonies from human rights lawyers, government officials, and victims of the country's civil war.

The group found that human rights defenders, including lawyers, continue to have their work hampered and suffer from threats, attacks, and in some cases suffer even worse.

Sue Willman, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn and Caravana director, said: 'Our delegation discovered that lawyers are still dying in Colombia simply for doing their job.'

Caravan delegate, Patricia Ayodeji, added: 'I travelled with the Caravana to the conflictive city of Buenaventura not really knowing what to expect and the drastic human rights situation I saw there went way beyond anything I could have imagined.

'That is why I am determined to spread the word about the brave work of communities and defenders such as those in the Nayero Bridge humanitarian zone and the women's defenders group Butterflies with New Wings.'

The president of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, said he was 'alarmed' to read of the injustices suffered by lawyers in Colombia who risk their lives in merely seeking to rectify wrongs.

While criticising the continuing risks faced by lawyers in Colombia, which include attacks and stigmatisation, the report's authors express their hope for Colombia's future where the current peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla presents an opportunity for change.

Caravana lawyers said the peace process, which could end over 50 years of armed conflict, only stands a chance of success if it includes enforceable measures, such as victim compensation, land restitution, and will allow the justice system to uphold the basic rights of all.

The group has called on the international community, including the UK government, to support a fair peace process in post conflict Colombia.

'The UK government needs to step up to the mark and support a peace process which includes access to justice and the rule of law. Without this, Colombia may simply revert to the bad old days,' said Willman.

Adam Wagner, barrister at One Crown Row office and founder of the UK Human Rights Blog and new website RightsInfo, remarked: 'Human rights are important everywhere but are particularly so in societies where speaking up for human rights can mean prison or death.

'As lawyers in the UK, we are privileged to be able to speak out in public without fear for our physical safety. We have a responsibility to speak out for our colleagues in countries where the risks are truly grave.'

War journalists and lawyers will be meeting to consider the report's findings and discuss how to best protect Colombia's human rights defenders at London's Frontline Club tonight.

SJ's managing editor Laura Clenshaw will be live tweeting from the event. Follow @SJ_Weekly for more.


John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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