PBI UK has helped raise awareness among members of the British legal profession of the harsh conditions in which their Colombian counterparts struggle to practice. That work has advanced recently, with 42 British lawyers, from all sectors and levels of the profession, joining the international lawyers’ caravana to Colombia, which was initiated by the Colombian Association of Human Rights Defence Lawyers (ACADEUM). PBI UK’s Susi Bascon also participated as an observer.
The visit to the UK of two Colombian human rights lawyers has coincided with the caravana’s return and the publicising of its initial findings. Both guests met with influential people in London and beyond the capital. In public events at the Houses of Parliament and the Law Society, among other places, they spoke alongside the caravanista lawyers, who talked about their shock at seeing the indisputable evidence of the terrible difficulties faced by Colombian human rights lawyers.
As a result of their experiences, the participants committed themselves to continued monitoring and lobbying to support the investigation into assassinations of lawyers in Colombia.
“We will find ways of working together to protest immediately if there is abuse of human rights, if there is any threat to lawyers, if there is any way in which we can use international pressure, we can do that with the international network of support that has grown up among the caravanistas,” said Sara Chandler, of the College of Law of England and Wales.
As well as extensive meetings with lawyers’ groups, and the Federation of European Bars, Dora Lucy Arias, of the “José Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers’ Collective, met and with the coordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Human Rights. The APPG is currently in dialogue with the UK government about military aid to Colombia.
German Romero, of the Inter-church Commission for Justice and Peace, also met with representatives of lawyers’ groups, as well as with the MP Tom Brake and Lord Eric Avebury. Lord Avebury immediately tabled two written questions to the British Government, which included the threats against human rights defenders in Curburado, and the continued increase in the number of Colombia’s internally displaced people – he asked whether the British Embassy would visit the region on a forthcoming delegation organised by the diplomatic community in Colombia and if it was going to mention this in the forthcoming United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Colombia.
The stories of German and Dora Lucy moved everyone who met them, generating commitments of action and support. Following Dora Lucy’s visit the Law Society Charity also donated £10,000 to PBI UK’s Human Rights Defenders at Risk Fund, helping us to continue our support to human rights defenders working for access to justice and the rule of law.