An amicus brief is a document that is filed in a court by someone who is not directly related to the case under consideration. The additional information found in such a document can be useful for the judge evaluating the case, and it becomes part of the official case record.
February 2017 – Caravana intervenes in challenge to the law restricting the right to access information held by the Colombian intelligence services
The Caravana has recently submitted a written intervention in a case before the Consejo de Estado concerning the public’s right to access information held by the intelligence services. The challenge has been brought by a Colombian legal NGO, Dejusticia (Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad), and the Caravana’s intervention was submitted on its behalf by FLIP (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa), an NGO concerned with promoting freedom of expression.
Dejusticia’s challenge is to various articles of Decree 857 of 2014 (“the Decree”) which is secondary legislation enacted to flesh out Law 1621 of 2013 which concerns intelligence and counterintelligence. The Decree prescribes the information which the intelligence services may keep from the public under Law 1621. Worryingly, the Decree does not contain any reasonableness or proportionality test, and there is no mechanism for independent oversight. In summary, Dejusticia argues that the relevant articles of the Degree are ultra vires, unconstitutional, and in breach of international human rights standards.
The Caravana’s interest in the challenge arises from the important link between unlawful state surveillance and the intimidation and attacks experienced by many human rights lawyers in Colombia. The Caravana’s intervention focuses on the relevant human rights standards established under European law, particularly under Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the basis that these form part of an international consensus applicable to all countries, including Colombia.
October 2015 – British lawyers submit amicus brief on Wayuu child’s health affected by Cerrejón mine
The Colombian Caravana has filed an amicus curiae brief, drafted by Paul Dowling of Leigh Day Solicitors, with the Municipal Court in Barrancas (Guajira Department). The brief refers to a constitutional rights protection case (tutela) relating to the ill health of a young boy, Moisés Daniel Guette from the indigenous Wayuu community of Provincial, caused by pollution from the nearby Cerrejón open pit coal mine.
The Cerrejón open-pit coal mine is one of the largest in the world and involves the removal of large amounts of land through explosions which occur daily, in order to transport the coal to the loading port. The blasts generate enormous clouds of dust that are scattered by the atmosphere and tremors that shake the surrounding communities and their homes.
For Moisés’ community, access to water, land and a healthy environment has been altered by mining activities. The little rain water that falls and that they manage to collect is contaminated and for the same reasons the groundwater and surface water are not accessible to the communities. Moses has experienced health problems such as affects on his respiratory system and lungs as well as haemoglobin disorders. Doctors who have treated him have determined that his health situation is due to the environment in which he lives, and have advised changing the place where he lives, which would mean losing his culturally appropriate territory in which he lives and practices his ancestral traditions.
The amicus brief is available to read here in Spanish.
September 2015 – International lawyers and barristers submit amicus brief on military justice
Smita Shah and Paul Clarke of Garden Court International and Garden Court Chambers UK and Jelia Sane of Doughty Court Chambers, have submitted an Amicus Curiae to the Colombian Constitutional Court in support of a challenge to a constitutional reform which threatens to curtail access to justice for victims of human rights violations perpetrated by State Security Forces.
The Amicus was submitted in support of a constitutional challenge of Amendment 01 of 2015, which was put forward by NGOs, civil society members, human rights organisations and research centres, and which is currently under consideration by the Colombian Constitutional Court.
Amendment 01 of 2015 was passed by Congress in January 2015. The amendment states that when investigating and prosecuting cases concerning gross human rights violations carried out by state security forces, courts can only apply the provisions of International Humanitarian Law (the law of armed conflict) rather than both International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.
This is despite international legal consensus that International Humanitarian Law should only exclusively prevail in very limited circumstances. The Amicus brief highlights that, according to established international legal principles, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law are understood to be complementary spheres of law, and must be considered in tandem when investigating and prosecuting human rights violations carried out during the course of armed conflict.
The brief was endorsed by eminent UK and international lawyers and barristers from the fields of human rights law. The Colombian Caravana is monitoring events, together with ABColombia and Colombian organisations.
The Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group and the Bar Human Rights Committee filed an intervention in a class action aimed at protecting human and environmental rights in Colombia.
Colombian miners and rural communities are claiming serious damage to their health and environment after decades of pollution from the Cerrejon coal mine in northern Colombia. Cerrejon, one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world is 2/3 controlled by BHP Billiton and Anglo American, multinationals which are registered on the London Stock Exchange. The Colombian authorities are bringing the claim against Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd and others in the Administrative Tribunal in Bogota, Colombia. They argue there has been a breach of the collective rights to a healthy environment, public safety and public health for mineworkers and the community living around the mine, mainly indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples. The miners’ union (SINTRACARBON) which intervened in the case has limited resources and asked for assistance on international legal issues.
UK-based barristers, Richard Hermer QC of Matrix Chambers and Phil Haywood of Doughty Street Chambers, drafted a compelling amicus curiae brief, which outlines relevant international standards. These include the positive obligations to safeguard the right to health and enjoyment of a healthy environment, and the right to safe working conditions. The court’s decision is imminent.
Thanks to Richard Hermer Q.C, and Phil Haywood, for drafting the brief, and to Andraz Zidar and Cynthia Morgan from the British Institute of international and Comparative Law, Jonny Butterworth, Joshua Hardie for the research, and Mary Johnson for translation.