‘Colombia’s rights victims have no access to justice’

August 30th, 2008 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, Aug 30 (IANS) The victims of human rights abuses in Colombia are unable to seek justice, as their lawyers are constantly intimidated or prevented from accessing the due process of law , an international delegation of lawyers have said, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Saturday. “What we’ve ascertained is that due legal process is not available (in Colombia) because lawyers have no access to justice,” Canadian lawyer Denis L’Anglais, representative of Lawyers Without Borders, told at a press conference here Friday.

“The simple act of exercising the right (to seek justice) is perceived as a subversive action. Many of our colleagues have suffered harassment and received death threats,” the report quoted the lawyer as saying.

The group has visited five different regions of Colombia to meet members of the grassroots, labour and student organisations as well as victims of the country’s decades-long internal conflict.

They also met prosecutors and judges.

Sara Chandler, a lawyer from Britain, showed reporters a list of 16 lawyers who were threatened by the rightist militiamen with death, if they did not desist from pursuing legal action against them.

“Here (in Colombia) even the minimal international standard for independence of the legal profession is not being met. Without those requirements there is no rule of law,” she said.

“We call on the state entities responsible for (the protection of) civil liberties and human rights to take urgent action to remedy this situation,” Chandler said.

The lawyers denounced the impunity that shields perpetrators of certain crimes, demonstrated by the fact that hardly anyone was convicted in the murders of 125 lawyers between 1996 and 2006.

They cited the incidents in southwestern city of Cali, Colombia’s third largest metropolis, where in 2004, at least 24 lawyers have been killed, three of them outside the Palace of Justice. Till date, no convictions have been handed down.

The lawyers pledged to provide follow-up reports on the shortfalls of Colombia’s justice system and help for their colleagues - mainly when lawyers have no further legal recourse at home and want to bring cases before international tribunals, the report said.

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