Report of the 5th International Caravana of Jurists in Colombia 

On 18 November 2016, the 5th Report of the International Caravana of Jurists in Colombia was launched at the Law Society. Chaired by Sue Willman, chair of the Caravana UK Lawyers’ Group and partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, the event hosted an impressive line up of speakers , including: John Dew (former UK Ambassador to Colombia), Reynaldo Villalba (Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective), Mark Cunningham QC and Sean O’ Reilly, an Irish solicitor and member of the Caravana Irish Group.

It is estimated that 35 lawyers were murdered in Colombia in the first six months of 2016 (source: Somos Defensores) and 63 human rights defenders were murdered in 2015 (source: OHCHR Colombia) as a result of their work. These numbers do not include the murders of family members of lawyers and human rights defenders. Nor do they include acts of harassment, surveillance or physical attacks against lawyers and human rights defenders in the country.

The report was launched at a time when Colombia is transitioning towards a post-conflict settlement, including transitional justice arrangements as part of the agreed peace process. Mark Cunningham QC affirmed that the absence of remedies for past wrongdoings is a sign of the continuity of impunity; however, the Colombian peace process is an encouraging sign that changes are afoot. John Dew highlighted that land restitution and law reform are crucial steps to the successful end of the conflict and to end attacks against human rights lawyers and defenders. Reinaldo Villalba invited the international community to continue playing an active role in monitoring the Colombian peace process and in raising awareness of the challenges faced by human rights lawyers. He went on to say that it is responsibility of all actors involved, including the FARC and the Colombian Government, to implement the peace agreement.

Some of the key findings and recommendations of the Caravana report include:

  • The Colombian government should increase the protection of Colombian lawyers and human rights defenders This includes proper investigations into murders and attacks, in order to end impunity.
  • The adoption of safeguards that guarantee non-recurrence; for example, through the implementation of the Truth Commission of Colombia and the removal of the concept of “internal enemy”.
  • The role of the international community is crucial for monitoring the compliance by multinationals of international standards relating to business and human rights, especially in the areas of environmental protection and the rights of communities to natural resources.
  • There is a clear link between inequality and injustice in Colombia, which should be redressed including by increasing interventions that benefit minority groups, such as the Afro-Colombian population.
  • Legal reforms are clearly needed in the areas of land restitution, land reforms and on transitional justice.

The Law Society’s International Human Rights Policy Adviser, Marina Brilman, participated as a delegate at this 5th Caravana.

Read the full report here.