Press Release

IACHR refers case on Colombia to the Inter-American Court

December 28, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On July 8, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented the case Members of the José Alvear Restrepo ”Collective Lawyers Corporation - CAJAR with respect to Colombia to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case is related to facts of violence, intimidation, harassment and threats against CAJAR members since the 1990s and up to the present day, linked to their activities in defense of human rights.

In its Merits Report, the Commission noted that the members of CAJAR have been victims of multiple events of threats, harassment and follow-up in various places by people whose identity is not accredited. However, taking into account that the State carried out arbitrary intelligence work, as well as stigmatizing pronouncements by high officials in which they linked CAJAR members with the guerrillas, the Commission considered that such actions actively contributed to the materialization of such acts of violence. As established by the Commission, this situation constitutes not only a serious breach of the duty to protect, but it was also actions that were openly contrary to that duty, with the necessary implications in attributing responsibility to the State for the acts of violence, threat and harassment against CAJAR.

Specifically, in relation to intelligence activities, the Commission established that the work of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) through a special strategic intelligence group included monitoring the work activities of CAJAR members; intercept their landline and cell phone calls, and emails; and make personal files of each member that include personal data. The State did not satisfy the legality requirement to carry out the monitoring and surveillance activities for the members of CAJAR. These activities were carried out without any type of judicial control. Furthermore, regarding the possible justification for said interference, the State did not invoke any legitimate purpose pursued through such intelligence work carried out against the members of CAJAR, nor presented any element that would allow an analysis of the suitability, necessity, and proportionality of such measures. In this sense, the Commission determined that the intelligence work of the DAS was illegal and arbitrary, to the detriment of the members of CAJAR.

The Commission considered that, although the State adopted physical protection measures in favor of CAJAR members, such measures were evaluated alongside a context of lack of clarification and total impunity for the events denounced, arbitrary intelligence and monitoring, as well as stigmatizing pronouncements by high officials, were manifestly insufficient to prove that the State fulfilled its duty to protect. On the contrary, all the actions described constitute as well a violation of the duty of respect, as the State itself has become part of the risk faced by CAJAR, as well as being tolerant and acquiescent regarding the facts against it.

In these circumstances, the Commission concluded that such actions and omissions on the part of the State affected the regular activities of the organization, and that they were translated into a frightening effect so that the members of CAJAR exercised their freedom of expression and association in their work to defend human rights.

The Commission noted that the State did not carry out a serious and exhaustive investigation aimed at finding out the truth about the facts, identifying the perpetrators, unraveling the sources of risk that CAJAR faced through diligent joint investigations, and taking into account the context and to impose the respective sanctions. Thus, the Commission considered that the State has not provided the victims with an appropriate resource to attend to their claims related to access to information from the military intelligence database.

Finally, the situation experienced by the victims generated great insecurity and well-founded fear, which led to the exile of several members of CAJAR, along with their respective families, who had among their members their children, minors.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State

1. To fully repair the human rights violations declared in this report, both in the material and moral aspects suffered by the victims of the case. This includes both compensation and satisfaction measures.

2. Undertake and complete judicial, administrative, and disciplinary investigations in an impartial, effective, and expedited manner, in order to establish the corresponding responsibilities for the violations committed in this case.

3. Guarantee that in all processes of adoption, implementation, monitoring and lifting of special protection measures, the effective participation of victims is guaranteed. In particular, the Commission recommends that the State ensure that the personnel who participate in security schemes for victims are designated with the participation and consultation of the beneficiaries in a way that generates confidence.

4. Ensure the victims' access to their data in the intelligence files and, if they wish, request that they be corrected, updated or, where appropriate, purged from the intelligence files.

5. Adopt legislative, institutional and judicial measures aimed at reducing the exposure to risk of human rights defenders. In this sense, the State must:

5.1. Strengthen institutional capacity to combat the pattern of impunity in the face of cases of threats and deaths of human rights defenders, by preparing investigation protocols that, takes into account the risks inherent in the work of defense of human rights; and allowing the exhaustive development of research under this hypothesis.

5.2. Develop adequate and expedited institutional response measures that allow the effective protection of human rights defenders in situations of risk. Specifically, adopt measures to ensure the effective implementation of the special protection measures issued by the organs of the inter-American system.

5.3. Refrain from carrying out intelligence tasks that imply arbitrary limitations on the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, in the terms established in this merits report. In particular, the State must ensure that any interference in said rights as a result of intelligence work complies with the standards of legality, imperative purpose, necessity and proportionality. The regulation in this matter should avoid the granting of excessively vague powers, include a precise definition of national security, establish the need for authorization and independent judicial supervision and, in general, should be informed by the principles of exceptionality and transparency. Finally, the people affected must have suitable and effective resources to obtain access to personal data that is included in intelligence files, as well as to request its correction, update or purification.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 312/20