Since 2009, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer has taken place on 24 January in multiple cities, countries, and continents across the globe. 24 January was chosen as the annual International Day of the Endangered Lawyer because on this day in 1977, four lawyers and a co-worker were murdered at their address at Calle Atocha 55 in Madrid, an event that came to be known as the Massacre of Atocha.
The purpose of this international Day is to draw the attention of civil society and the public authorities to the situation of lawyers in a particular country, in order to raise awareness about the threats that they face in the exercise of their profession. Therefore, this Day has been dedicated in previous years to countries including Azerbaijan (2021), Pakistan (2020), Turkey (2019 & 2012), Egypt (2018), China (2017), Honduras (2016), the Philippines (2015), Basque Country/Spain (2013), and Iran (2010).
This year, for the second time, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer focuses on Colombia, where the persecution of human rights lawyers continues, preventing them from practising their profession.
Colombia is the most unequal country in terms of income among all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and the second most unequal country in Latin America.
The inequalities between regions lead to a social, economic, and institutional crisis crystallising instability in the country. It has experienced many years of upheaval from the beginning of the armed conflict in 1964 to the present day.
Colombia has endured decades of violent and complex armed conflict, which have caused widespread and grave human rights violations, including countless homicides, displacements, forced disappearances, sexual crimes and gender-based violence, especially in rural areas and indigenous communities. In February 2021, for example, the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) stated that between 2002 and 2008, at least 6,402 civilians were extrajudicially killed by the Colombian army and falsely identified as combat casualties (i.e., “false positive” cases).
While the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 officially ended the long-lasting internal armed conflicts that had opposed government forces against the FARCs (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) for years, however, the peace process has not been resolved; negotiations with the ELN guerrillas were suspended and paramilitary and drug trafficking groups continue to strengthen. Conflict-related violence has therefore taken new forms in Colombia, and grave abuses continue in various parts of the country, particularly in those areas historically characterised by limited state presence, illicit and high levels of poverty.
Colombia remains the country with the highest number of murdered human rights defenders (HRDs) in Latin America, and has had the highest record of attacks against land and environmental defenders, with 65 killed in 2020 alone. Violence against peace signatories and human rights defenders in Colombia has increased significantly since the signing of the Peace Agreement. Furthermore, murders of reintegrated people and social leaders continue to take place. Despite progress in this area, there is still a high level of impunity.
In April 2021, a series of measures taken by the government, including a proposed tax reform that disadvantages the lower and middle classes, re-ignited protests throughout the country, despite the lockdown that was in place. There was a social movement phenomenon known as National Strike with mass participation of citizens in daily demonstrations for more than 2 months. These demonstrations were violently repressed by state forces.
The actions of the state security forces and bodies have been the subject of numerous complaints from national and international civil society organisations, alleging abuses and arbitrary detentions, exceeding their functions and using disproportionate force against demonstrators and human rights defenders, including lawyers who supported the exercise of the right to social protest. In June 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the disproportionate use of public force in the “Observations and recommendations”, published after its working visit to Colombia. The critiques of the national police’s handling of two days of police brutality protests in September 2020 have been no less scathing.
It is in this adverse and violent context that advocacy is practised.
Historically, Colombia presented one of the highest murder rates for lawyers. Despite the peace agreements, corruption, illegal surveillance, threats, judicial harassment, and murders of lawyers is rampant. Such persecution has recently increased for human rights defenders.
According to a report of 2014 of the Solidarity Fund with Colombian Judges (FASOL), for the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth, more than 700 lawyers had been killed in the previous 10 years and more than 4,400 had suffered various types of aggression.It must be underscored that these figures are always underestimated. Likewise, FASOL registered in its database that between 1989 and 2019, 1,340 justice sector professionals were victims of violence, and from January 2019 to April 2021, there were 6 homicides, 26 threatened officials, 12 attacks, 3 prosecutions, 6 displacements, one exile and one violent carnal access.
In 2020, the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ) also reported 310 murders of social leaders and human rights defenders in 2020 and 1,251 from the signing of the Peace Agreement until 5 October 2021. Between 2019 and 2020, state intelligence agencies carried out surveillance operations on various human rights organisations that provide legal assistance to opponents of the governmental regime.
Human rights lawyers are usually subjected to judicial harassment to prevent them from pursuing their activities. This practice consists of the legal stigmatisation of lawyers, typically by threatening to initiate their prosecution or aligning them with their clients causes. Polarisation and an evident interference by the spheres of power have meant that many lawyers have been victims of this and other types of attacks.
Colombia has, with regard to lawyers, neither prevented, investigated nor properly prosecuted attacks and threats against lawyers involved in sensitive human rights cases. Some lawyers highlight that no progress has been made in any criminal or disciplinary investigation carried out by the competent bodies and initiated as a result of lawyers’ denunciations. Lawyers and HRDs are in particular danger when representing clients in sensitive cases such as environmental cases, land restitution cases, and cases that deal with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace .
There is no institutionalised local or national Bar Association or Law Society in Colombia to promote and protect the independence of lawyers or to protect the profession in general. It is the Consejo Superior de la Judicatura (the National Council of the Judiciary) that registers and stores information on Colombian lawyers, and sanctions malpractice or misconduct in the course of employment.
Bar associations are key institutions that ensure a proper framework for the development of the legal profession for lawyers. Hence, the lack of Bar Association or Law Society hinders the collective representation of lawyers’ interests at a local and national level.
In Colombia, as in many other South American countries, it is not mandatory to be a member of a bar association in order to practise law. While there has long been talk of the need for an official institutional body to register lawyers and ensure their ability to freely and independently practise their profession, this has not yet been achieved. Instead, the Colombian legal profession continues to be grouped in non-institutional associations and collectives.
In view of the above-mentioned concerns, this report includes a selection of cases that illustrate and concretely highlight the problems faced by the legal profession in Colombia.
 MUNDIAL, Banco. Hacia la construcción de una sociedad equitativa en Colombia 2021. Available in English at https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/602591635220506529/pdf/Main-Report.pdf
 Yaffe, Lilian (July 1, 2011). “Conflicto armado en Colombia: análisis de las causas económicas, sociales e institucionales de la oposición violenta” [Armed conflict in Colombia: analysing the economic, social, and institutional causes of violent opposition] (PDF) : https://www.icesi.edu.co/revistas/index.php/revista_cs/article/view/1133/1496
 https://www.jep.gov.co/Sala-de-Prensa/Paginas/La-JEP-hace-p%C3%BAblica-la-estrategia-de-priorizaci%C3%B3n-dentro-del-Caso-03,-conocido-como-el-de-falsos-positivos.aspx ; https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/02/1085252
 “Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera”, 24 November 2016, available at https://www.jep.gov.co/Normativa/Paginas/Acuerdo-Final.aspx
 See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia, https://www.hchr.org.co/index.php/informacion-publica/micrositios/homicidios-de-defensoras-y-defensores; UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “Visit to Colombia,” UN Doc. A/HRC/43/51/Add.1, 26 December 2019, https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/51/Add.1
 “Last line of defense” Global Witness, September 2021 available at https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/last-line-defence/
 Country File/Colombia: The use of justice as a persecution mechanism (International Observatory of Lawyers at Risk/Observatorio Internacional de Abogados, July 2021), https://protect-lawyers.org/en/item/country-file-colombia-the-use-of-justice-as-a-persecution-mechanism/
 “From 28 April to 16 June (2021), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) registered allegations of 56 deaths, 54 civilians and two police officers, in the context of the protests; hundreds more were wounded”, see para. 4, idem note 6.
 According to figures from the campaign Defend Freedom: 326 human rights defenders were attacked and at least 260 cases of attacks on the press were reported. At: https://www.facebook.com/DefenderLaLibertad/
 “The IACHR has been able to verify that, on repeated occasions, as well as in various regions of the country, the State’s response was characterised by the excessive and disproportionate use of force, in many cases, including lethal force.” https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/informes/pdfs/ObservacionesVisita_CIDH_Colombia_SPA.pdf
“Colombian police responsible for ‘massacre’ of 11 people in 2020 protests, U.N.-backed investigators conclude” (Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2021), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/12/13/colombia-police-massacre-2020/
 See generally, e.g., Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2014: Basic Text – Lawyers in Colombia (2013), available at
https://lawyersforlawyers.org/wp-content/uploads/Basic-text-situation-Colombian-Lawyers.pdf; Colombia the most dangerous country in the world for lawyers (Commercial Dispute Magazine, 2011), available at https://iclg.com/cdr/people-and-firms/colombia-the-most-dangerous-country-in-the-world-for-lawyers; see also, e.g., Gill Boehringer, “Attacks on Lawyers” (41(4) Alt. L. J. 290, 2016) (describing Colombia as “long one of the most dangerous countries for lawyers along with Syria and Iraq”), available at https://www.altlj.org/news-and-views/downunderallover/duao-vol-41-4/1104-attacks-on-lawyers; “’Lawyers in some countries are disappeared simply for doing their jobs’” (The Guardian, 3 Jan. 2014), available at https://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jan/03/alliance-of-lawyers-at-risk
 Franklin Castañeda: President of the Committee of the Foundation for Solidarity with Political Prisoners and Member of the National Commission for Security Guarantees, Extract from the OIAD and OMCT webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG0z4Tx62GM&ab_channel=InternationalObservatoryofLawyersinDanger )
 The Commission for the Clarification of the Truth is an entity of the Colombian State which aims to recognise and enforce the rights of victims of the armed conflict and the recognition of crimes committed during the conflict, in the context of the peace agreements.
 Reinaldo Villalba – President of the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights. Extract from the OIAD and OMCT webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG0z4Tx62GM&ab_channel=InternationalObservatoryofLawyersinDanger ).
 Hernández, C. E. U. (Ed.). (2021). La independencia judicial en Colombia, en riesgo por un régimen autoritario. Bogotá, D.C., pág. 23-26. Available at: https://coeuropa.org.co/la-independencia-judicial-en-colombia-en-riesgo-por-un-regimen-autoritario/
 This situation was condemned by the Caravana Internacional de Juristas, together with other organisations in its joint letter to the Colombian president Ivan Duque, on 23 July 2020 (http://www.colombiancaravana.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Letter-allegations-of-Illegal-Surveillance_FINAL.pdf)
 Country File/Colombia: The use of justice as a persecution mechanism (International Observatory of Lawyers at Risk/Observatorio Internacional de Abogados, July 2021). Available at : https://protect-lawyers.org/en/item/country-file-colombia-the-use-of-justice-as-a-persecution-mechanism/
 Statement made by Germán Romero from the organisation DH-Colombia in the interview held by the International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger (OIAD)
 “Mid-term Report – Review of the implementation of recommendations with respect to the rule of law and the role of human rights defenders accepted by Colombia during the UPR in 2018”. (L4L, LRWC and Colombian Caravana, September 2021). Available at: https://lawyersforlawyers.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Midterm-report-Colombia-L4L-LRWC-Caravana-sept-2021.pdf
 For more information on the Consejo Superior de Judicatura Colombiano, see: https://sirna.ramajudicial.gov.co/Paginas/Inicio.aspx
 According to Art. 256-A of the 1991 Colombian Political Constitution, “the National Commission of Judicial Discipline will be in charge of examining the conduct and punishing the offences of the attorneys practicing their profession, in the instances that the law indicated, except when this function is attributed to a Board of Lawyers by law”, translation available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Colombia_2015.pdf?lang=en
 Report on the feasibility of a mandatory bar association in the Republic of Colombia and Strategic Plan for its promotion and consolidation. – Fundación Abogacía Española – August 2011 https://protect-lawyers.org/wp-content/uploads/INFORME-COLEGIATURA-ABOGADOS-EN-COLOMBIA- Fundacion.pdf
 Colombia was also the focus country in 2014. Please see https://www.uianet.org/en/actions/january-24-international-day-endangered-lawyers-call-all-lawyers-support-their-colombian; https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/colombia-day-of-the-endangered-lawyer/