Good morning everyone, good morning President and members of Acadehum, good morning respected members of the INNCA University. Good morning CARAVANISTAS from all over the world, representatives of the legal community who support human rights.
[pictures Sara Chandler with Rafael Palencia and representatives of INCCA]
It is an honour for me to address you all and to bring our message of support and solidarity to the community of human rights lawyers who with great courage and strength defend human rights in Colombia.
The Caravana has a long history of support for ACADEHUM and human rights defenders. For more than ten years individual legal organisations, both international and national, from a number of countries, have had a direct and supportive role.
Seven years ago, ACADEHUM called on the international legal community to visit Colombia in the very first Caravana Internacional de Juristas. In August 2008, 70 lawyers responded to the invitation and worked with ACADEHUM in 6 regions to hear testimony of the situation faced by lawyers who defend human rights.
[pictured delegates before the start of Day one introductory presentations]
The Caravana Internacional de Juristas was born. Since that time the Caravana in the exterior has become known as the Colombian Caravana, and has committed all our energy in supporting human rights lawyers by raising the profile of your work, making known to the international community the work that you do despite the constant harassment, the burglaries of offices, the surveillance, the criminalisation, police detention, stigmatisation, the death threats, the physical attacks, and assassinations.
Over the last six years the Caravana has developed many ways of supporting human rights lawyers in Colombia by providing a huge international spotlight on the violations of human rights in Colombia.
As lawyers and judges we have raised our serious concerns with the Colombian government through the presentation of reports, with the sending of letters when a lawyer is threatened, and we demand appropriate protection for threatened lawyers and ask for full investigation of the perpetrators of the death threats, which are signed by members of para-military groups which make very clear their opposition to the human rights work undertaken by our colleagues, members of the lawyer’s collectives and organisations from several regions of Colombia.
In the international legal community we organise many public meetings. We show films, raise debates, and work with parliamentarians in our countries to raise our concerns about the violations of human rights and the persecution of those who defend human rights.
Lawyers in the UK and other countries also provide amicus briefs to the Colombian courts in respect of cases brought by Colombian lawyers. One of the most emblematic cases supported in this way is that of David Ravelo Crespo.
On January 24th this year, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer was marked in many countries. This year the focus was on Colombia and thanks to several organisations, and in particular the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights, Colombian lawyers spoke in many meetings in European capital cities. Lawyers from the international community visited Colombian Embassies, and presented petitions signed by hundreds of lawyers, and lawyers dressed in their formal legal roles demonstrated outside Embassies. The raising of the profile of Colombian lawyers in this way reached out to many more members of the international legal community, and I am delighted to welcome here today new members of the Caravana, and in particular those who became involved in the Day of the Endangered Lawyers.
Among the Caravana delegation there are lawyers from Lawyers Rights Watch, Canada, from the American Bar Association, from the Law Society of Ireland and the Irish Bar Association, from the Law Society of England and Wales, from English and Welsh Bar, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, we welcome lawyers from Lawyers for Lawyers and Judges for Judges from the Netherlands, from the Belgian, French and German Bar Associations, from the Associaion Libre de Abogados de Espana and from Spanish Bar, and from Italy, Switzerland and Australia, and from the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights. There is a great support from the organisations to which Caravana members belong, and I want to thank them for the solidarity they have shown.
To organise a Caravana delegation involves months of hard and dedicated work, and I want to say thank you to those individuals who have made this possible, thank you to Raphael , President of ACADEHUM, and to the two Coordinators, Edwin Rubio and Joanne Hutchinson, who have given so much of their time to make this a successful Caravana, making a strong partnership between the Caravana and Acadehum.
To the members of the Caravana I have this to say, each of you brings your committed support from your countries to human rights in Colombia, with all the energy that you can give. We are a true community of shared values, of shared spirit, and of shared support for the human rights, for access to justice and for the rule of law.
To the members of ACADEHUM, I have this to say, we, the members of the Caravana know that without lawyers there is no justice, that without you, our respected colleagues, there would be no justice in Colombia.
We are ready to work with you this week of the Caravana. We thank you for organising the programme of interviews and meetings in which we will engage over the next days. We will promise you our full support now and for as long as you need us.
I conclude by saying, yes, we in the international community are ready to stand beside you in your struggle for justice, now and for ever.