The Caravana made its fourth biennial visit to Colombia from 23 to 31 August 2014. About 70 members from 12 countries, including 5 judges, visited seven regions: Bucaramanga, Buenaventura, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Pasto and Santa Marta. While in Colombia and in the regions we met regional human rights lawyers and defenders as well as state officials. In Bogota, the Caravana met government officials and communicated the concerns that had been raised in our regional visits.
THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
Despite the existence of the Unidad Nacional de Protección and the precautionary measures provided to human rights lawyers and defenders, many of those at risk receive no protection (or have had protection reduced) or they receive inappropriate measures. We were told that the conditions for human rights lawyers in Calí, Valle de Cauca and Bolívar are particularly dire and many lawyers have been killed since our last visit. In general, human rights defenders continue to suffer obstruction through threats, attacks and surveillance. We were particularly concerned about the continued stigmatisation of human rights defenders and attempts to discredit their work by accusations of rebelion and false allegations of corruption and judicial fraud.
The Caravana made its first visit to the mainly Afro-Colombian area of Buenaventura. The levels of violence there are too high for human rights lawyers to operate and the very few human rights defenders cannot carry out their functions properly because of the threats. The surge in violence in Buenaventura is met with almost complete impunity
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Although ostensibly Colombia protects human rights and access to justice through its advanced Constitution, laws and the adoption of international instruments, in reality there is limited application of these laws and impunity prevails throughout the country. Lawyers have great difficulty in gaining access to prisons to visit their clients. In addition, the Defensoria del Pueblo cannot operate effectively in some regions due to lack of resources, resulting in inordinate delays. We are deeply disturbed at the number of cases currently dealt with under military jurisdiction, which do not advance because of inherent impunity which will get worse if the current bill on military jurisdiction becomes law.
The judge members of the Caravana received information that court judgements are frequently subject to disparaging comments by public officials and are often not implemented. They were told that judges are sometimes subject to prosecution and/or investigation by the Consejo Superior de Judicatura because of their judgements in human rights cases.
Indigenous communities remain highly vulnerable. We have heard how indigenous communities suffer victimisation, displacement and marginalisation.There need to be State guarantees of their rights, as enshrined within the Colombian Constitution.
Many of the issues we have heard about on previous visits concerning death threats, impunity and stigmatisation of lawyers at the hands of paramilitaries have arisen again. There is a compelling sense that despite having been rebranded as criminal groups known as ‘BACRIM’ the influence of paramilitaries continues. We have encountered grave concerns from human rights lawyers and defenders about the impending release from prison of many former paramilitaries. Concrete guarantees need to be put in place to ensure that their release does not adversely impact on the security of those working in the defence of human rights.
From the accounts we have heard from community leaders and state officials across the regions, we have been given the firm impression by both community leaders and state officials that the Land & Restitution Law (Ley 1448) is not working as intended, with serious shortcomings and delays in either compensating or returning displaced people to their land. Those attempting to return to their land often encounter threats, assaults or even murder, with a complete lack of the State’s presence in certain regions.
Sexual violence related to the armed conflict and criminal gangs continues to be an endemic problem. Effective protective measures must be implemented for victims and far more resources directed towards investigations and prosecutions of allegations of rape and sexual violence.
The current peace talks give hope that, if successful, they will offer a more peaceful future for Colombia. However, it is essential to resolve systemic problems of inequality and injustice to achieve a lasting peace. At this time the problems identified by us on our previous visits remain and in some cases are worse.
The Caravana is determined to follow developments closely and continue its support for human rights lawyers in Colombia, which will remain one of the keys to peace and justice.
SIN ABOGADOS NO HAY JUSTICIA!