The armed conflict in Colombia has a disproportionate effect on the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, as well as on the lawyers representing them. Through its project, LWBC lends its support to lawyers who are threatened because of their work with these communities. LWBC therefore contributes to reinforcing the access to justice of the victims of the armed conflict, favouring the free exercise of the legal profession for human rights lawyers.
The armed conflict raging in Colombia for decades continues to cause serious human rights violations, including massacres, assassinations, extra-judicial executions, kidnappings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests by security services, etc. According to the majority of credible international sources, paramilitary groups are responsible for the greatest number of human rights’ violations committed against civilian non-combatants.
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, whose ancestral territories are often rich in natural resources, have, as a consequence, been particularly affected by the conflict. Lawyers representing victims of criminal acts committed by armed groups - acts that receive the active support or consent of influential actors in the political and economic spheres - are also victims of threats and other forms of intimidation.
These attacks, unfortunately all too frequent, seriously interfere with the ability of vulnerable populations to access justice and also impact the rights of victims to effective representation by a competent and independent lawyer. Regrettably, in this way, those responsible for these attacks achieve their goals: to discourage human rights lawyers from seeking to end the impunity enjoyed by those who have committed serious crimes against civilian populations as well as by those who planned or allowed these crimes to take place. Yet, without lawyers, there cannot be any justice, and, without justice, there cannot be reconciliation and lasting peace in Colombia.
1.To support the actions of human rights lawyers’ groups in order to :
2. To strengthen the rights of victims – especially those of certain indigenous groups who have been particularly affected by the conflict – to legal representation and to access to justice, through the promotion of the free exercise of the legal profession by human rights lawyers.
By funding their work, by offering international accompaniment and by supporting some of their specific activities (such as funding travel expenses to meet with victims in different regions of the country in order to document cases of grave human rights abuses, training sessions, trial preparation, payment of court, witness and expert fees, etc.), the program enables lawyers from the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CAJAR) to devote themselves full-time to the defense and accompaniment of victims and vulnerable groups, without having to charge these groups for their legal services;
The representation of victims and vulnerable groups has led to concrete results in many legal cases undertaken by CAJAR lawyers. For example, results include the conviction of some of those responsible for grave human rights abuses (such as members of the Colombian security forces), the issuing – by both local and international adjudicative bodies – of protective measures for threatened individuals and the recognition by the courts of the organized and systematic nature of the human rights violations suffered by persons and groups who are considered opponents to the regime;
Training of hundreds of jurists, members of civil society and vulnerable groups’ advocates on issues such as the implementation in Colombia of the internationally-recognized legal standards applicable to the free exercise of the legal profession, organizing lawyers into professional bodies, international human rights law, international criminal law and comparative indigenous rights law (in particular the right of indigenous communities to be consulted prior to the implementation of economic development projects);
Contributing to the respect of fair trial principles through trial observation, specifically in the case of the seven soldiers accused of assassinating a Nasa leader (Colombian indigenous people, Cauca department). On June 11th 2010, the verdict in this case was rendered and six of the seven accused were found guilty. Their sentences were set at 40 years of imprisonment;
Drafting and submitting before the Colombian Supreme Court legal arguments based in international and comparative law (amicus curiae), including at the trial of Jorge Noguera, a former director of the Colombian information services. Organizing international observation missions to observe the conditions in which lawyers exercise their profession;
Drafting of reports on the attacks to the independence of the judiciary and on the persecution faced by human rights lawyers, submitted to, among others, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers;
The creation of a committee of Canadian volunteers to assist the accompaniment and training program in Colombia.
The main partner of the project is the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (Colectivo de abogados José Alvéar Restrepo - CAJAR), one of Colombia’s most renowned human rights non-governmental organizations.
LWBC’s other partners are the Colombian Association of Human Rights Lawyers Eduardo Umaña Mendoza (Asociación colombiana de abogados defensores Eduardo Umaña Mendoza - ACADEUM), a solidarity, mutual assistance and communication network of human rights lawyers and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización nacional indígena de Colombia - ONIC) the largest federation of indigenous peoples in Colombia.
The implementation of this project is made possible thanks to the financial support of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START).