Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC) presented two amicus curiae briefs to the Constitutional Court of Colombia to support claims of unconstitutionality against sections 3 and 44 of Law 1448 of 2012, also known as the Victims Act. Alongside the 2005 Justice and Peace Act, the Victims Act is one of the Government of Colombia`s primary legislative efforts to bring an end to the internal armed conflict in the country. Section 3 of the Victims Act defines who can be considered as a victim for the purpose of the law and section 44 establishes a cap on the fees which can be charged by lawyers acting in proceedings under the act.
According to Mr. Pascal Paradis, Executive Director of LWBC, “It is imperative to support these unconstitutionality claims against sections 3 and 44, because they can significantly impede the Victims Act’s capacity to effectively protect the rights of the victims of armed conflict to peace, justice, truth, and restitution”. LWBC’s Head of Mission in Colombia, Ms. Carlota Valverde Coscollola, adds that “LWBC believes that the Constitutional Court of Colombia’s decisions in these cases could potentially guarantee a normative framework of assistance and reparation to victims of serious human rights violations in Colombia that complies with its constitutional and international obligations.”
Section 3 limits beneficiaries under the Victims Act to individuals who have suffered violations of their fundamental rights as a direct result of the armed conflict. In their joint amicus curiae brief, LWBC and the Asociación Francia Colombia Justicia argue that this criterion infringes upon the rights of victims of the context of sociopolitical violence that prevails in Colombia. They argue that this phenomenon is inseparable from the internal armed conflict, and thus victimizes individuals that seek to publically assert or defend their rights. The amicus curiae brief presents arguments founded on international human rights law to support the position that section 3 of the Victims Act, in its current form, would exclude victims of sociopolitical crimes, in violation of Colombia’s constitutional and international obligations.
Paragraph 1 of section 44 of the Victims Act imposes a fixed cap on fees which lawyers can charge when representing victims, regardless of the number of victims represented or the length of the process. In its amicus curiae brief, LWBC demonstrates that this places an undue restraint on compensation because it does not take into account the difficulty and complexity of defending victims of serious human rights violations, since such cases last on average 15 years, require representation by highly qualified and experienced lawyers and may involve many victims. LWBC also argues that this restriction violates lawyers’ right to just, equitable and satisfactory working conditions, to free exercise of their profession, and to non-discrimination. As a result, the restriction hinders victims’ rights to legal representation, access to justice and non-discrimination. All of these rights are recognized by Colombia’s Constitution and by international human rights conventions that have been ratified by Colombia. Asociación Francia Colombia Justicia and the Caravana UK Lawyers’ Group have also signed the amicus curiae brief presented by LWBC.