Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC), together with Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), has filed an amicus curiae (1) brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in relation to the case of “Jose Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) v. Colombia. The Petitioners in this case are human rights lawyers who have been the subjects of threats, harassment, intimidation, and surveillance. Most of these violations have been attributed to the Colombian state, particularly its now-defunct intelligence agency known as the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (“DAS”).
Both to ensure proper redress and to guarantee the non-repetition of these human rights violations, an inclusive definition of victimhood is necessary. However, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) 2019 merits report failed to recognize the lawyers’ family members as victims themselves, despite acknowledging that they have directly suffered many human rights violations. This finding excludes them from the crucial rights to reparation and protection which victims are entitled to. ASFC and LWBC’s amicus brief therefore urges the Court to rightfully recognize the families of the Petitioners’ as victims.
The amicus’ argument is in line with the inter-American system’s evolving jurisprudence regarding victims’ rights, including the acknowledgement that “intense anguish and fear” is a violation of the right to humane treatment under article 5 of the ACHR. Importantly, to deny family members the right to remedy for such violations would be contrary to Articles 8(1) and 25(1) of the American Charter of Human Rights (ACHR).
While there are unfortunately many examples of the human rights violations experienced by the Petitioners’ family members, one particularly telling violation occurred in 2005 when a package was sent to the home of human rights lawyer Soraya Gutierrez Arguello. In it, she found a dismembered doll, covered with fake blood, and a warning that she should protect her family. This demonstrated the violence her young daughter could face if Ms. Gutierrez Arguello continued her work.
Other human rights violations experienced by the Petitioners include the monitoring and surveillance of their personal phone conversations and private email correspondences. Consequently, this also resulted in the surveillance of their close family members, in direct violation of their rights to honour, privacy, and family life which are safeguarded under Article 11 of the ACHR.
Those working to defend human rights should not have to fear for their lives, safety, or well-being. Neither should their families. This not only impedes the capacity of human rights defenders to represent their clients to the best of their abilities, it also erodes the rule of law and the entirety of the justice system.
(1) Amicus curiae translates to "friend of the court", and refers to an actor who is permitted to provide information or expertise to assist the court, but is not a party to the case at hand.
About Lawyers Without Borders Canada
LWBC is a non-governmental international cooperation organization whose mission is to support the defence of the human rights of people in situations of vulnerability by strengthening access to justice and legal representation.
About Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
LRWC is a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law by providing support internationally to human rights defenders in danger.