Colombia faces human rights challenges on many levels. The continuing armed conflict has a particular impact on rural groups, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. Illegal armed groups that emerged after the theoretical demobilisation of paramilitary organisations, the influence of drug trafficking, and the problems of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, sexual violence, the use of children by illegal armed groups and discrimination.
The Caravana Advocacy Group monitors cases throughout Colombia relating to human rights abuses towards lawyers and threats and harassment to those advocating in human rights cases. These crimes mean that human rights lawyers in Colombia work in a particularly stressful and dangerous environment.
The seriousness of the situation is illustrated by data from the UN Special Reporter on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers reporting to the General Assembly on 15 April 2010 stated that there were 334 lawyers killed in Colombia between 2003 and 2009*
Moreover, human rights organisations have registered an average of 25 cases of lawyers and human rights advocates killed on a yearly basis since 1991** which amounts to 400 people in a 16 years period (although official figures are lower).
More recent data tend to show the locations in Colombia where the situation is most dangerous. Comunicado Del Observatorio sobre la Situación de Derechos Humanos de Abogadas y Abogados Litigantes en Colombia (http://www.casadelabogado.org/index.php/publicaciones/99-informe-2011).
These data indicate that the number of killings and disappearances of lawyers and human rights defenders is particularly seriousness in Antioquia, Atlántico, Valle de Cauca, and Norte de Santander.
The Advocacy Group provides support to lawyers affected in this way both by advocating for changes in government policy to combat impunity and improvements to protective measures. It also intervenes in particular cases.
The advocacy strategy includes: letters of intervention sent to relevant government officials at a national and local level, followed up by meetings, with the Colombian ambassador in the UK and the relevant officials, whilst the Caravana is in Colombia. At these meetings, in addition to pointing out the seriousness, scale and trends relating to the attacks and harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders, we suggest changes in policy and follow up on the progress, or lack of it, in individual cases.
This strategy is complemented by meetings with interested UK MPs and MEPs, where the above issues and particular cases are discussed.
The individual letters sent and the replies received can be read by clicking here.
* (UN Doc. A/HRC/14/26/Add.2 para. 53 http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/judiciary/docs/A.HRC.14.26.Add.2.pdf).
** (Informe sobre la situación de los abogados y abogadas en Colombia, Abogados Sin Fronteras y Asociación Americana de Juristas, Diciembre 10, 2007, p.21-22. On line: http://www.aaj.org.br/InformeASFQ-A),