Between 2003 and 2009, 353 legal professionals were assassinated, according to National Police statistics. Impunity rates for such crimes remain high as a result of chronic and systemic underfunding of the judicial system, intimidation and pressure of members of the judiciary, and a lack of political will to support lawyers and human rights defenders in an environment in which the Colombian administration has consistently publicly denounced the work of human rights defenders. This situation has taken a great physical and psychological toll on human rights defenders across the country.
The delegation welcomed the inaugural promise of new President Santos to promote “non-stigmatization” of legal professionals and human rights defenders and to respect the independence of the judiciary in Colombia; however, time will tell whether this will be a real commitment or merely lip service.
The Delegation has recommended that the Colombian government work to alleviate the difficult conditions for Colombian legal professionals and human rights defenders by publicly supporting their work and the independence of the judiciary, investigating instances of abuses towards lawyers and human rights defenders, and providing adequate resources so that legal professionals and human rights defenders may carry out their essential work.
Members of the Delegation plan to continue monitoring the Santos administration to determine whether it is working to fulfill its inaugural commitments. The Delegation reports to have developed strong relationships with their Colombian peers and they hope this will provide “an enduring spotlight on the situation of human rights lawyers in Colombia.”