Peace Brigades accompanies at-risk lawyers and criminalized human rights defenders
Sue Willman, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn and a member of the Colombia Caravana UK Lawyers Group, recounts in this article her experience this past May when she was in Medellín, Colombia to observe the start of a high-profile trial.
The defendant is Santiago Uribe Vélez, the brother of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who stands accused of being the founder of a paramilitary death squad suspected to be responsible for as many as 500 murders.
Willman notes in her article that Daniel Prado, the lawyer for many of the alleged murder victims, “depends on accompaniment by Peace Brigades International volunteer field observers, to monitor his safety when travelling to attend the trial.”
On PBI accompaniment, Prado has previously commented, “You know that if someone makes an attempt on your life or harasses you, the international accompaniment is there. It generates personal, psychological and physical security.”
Willman highlights, “In Colombia, being a lawyer is a high-risk occupation.”
In April 2009, the Law Society Gazette (UK) reported, “More than 400 Colombian lawyers have been murdered since 1991 but no one has been prosecuted for a single killing, a devastating report from 42 British lawyers who visited Colombia last year has revealed.”
Willman adds that most recently, “In May 2019 a government lawyer, Paula Rosero Ordóñez, 47, was shot dead at close range.”
Justice for Colombia further explains, “Paula had been given protection measures in 2016 after receiving threats over her work in defence of human rights and targeting corruption in Samaniego. She was employed by the civil government in Nariño and provided representation to communities in the region.”
This November, PBI-Canada will be hosting two representatives from CCALCP, the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyer’s Collective, on a cross-country speaking tour.
That lawyers’ collective provides legal assistance to those who have suffered from human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. During the speaking tour they will be highlighting issues relating to fracking, water protection and climate change.
PBI-Colombia has noted, “Between 2005 and 2016, CCALCP’s members were the victims of 43 threats and security incidents, including physical attacks, death threats, public smears, harassment, unlawful interception of their communications, and information theft. According to Julia Figueroa, the systematic attacks against CCALCP’s members have been in manners that specifically relate to them being women.”
Since 2017, collective measures for the protection of CCALP members has included a car and bodyguard, but its members nonetheless report that these measures are not enough to guarantee their safety. PBI works to deepen their security.
Figueroa, a CCALCP lawyer who will be visiting Canada this November, has stated, “PBI means having one more political ally… With their awareness raising, communications, political advocacy … that is an armour in terms of effective security…”
In her article, Willman also writes, “The first goal of trial observation is ‘to make known to the court, the parties to the proceedings, the authorities of the country and to the general public the interest in, and concern for, the fairness of the trial in question in order to encourage the court or judge to provide a fair trial’, as explained by the helpful Trial Observation Manual for Criminal Proceedings produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).”
Along with accompanying at-risk lawyers, Peace Brigades International has also accompanied criminalized human rights defenders at court hearings this year, as noted in: PBI-Honduras at court hearing for Guapinol water defenders; PBI-Guatemala accompanies Indigenous CCDA Verapaz land defenders at court hearings; PBI-Guatemala accompanies Indigenous land defender Justino Xollim at court hearing; and PBI-Honduras accompanies the Broad Movement (Movimiento Amplio) to a court hearing.
Willman concludes her article, “International trial observation is a vital tool in Colombia and other states where the rule of law is fragile and our presence might just make a difference.” Peace Brigades International also seeks to help make that difference.
Willman’s full article titled ‘International trial observation’ can be read here.