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Public Statement: Colombia (June 2010)

The Law Society of Upper Canada Expresses Grave Concerns about the Security of Human Rights Lawyers and Judges in Colombia 

The Law Society of Upper Canada publicly condemns the illegal surveillance and harassment of human rights lawyers and judges as well as the harmful public denunciations by the State of human rights lawyers, who are often accused as being terrorists or collaborating with guerrillas. These public denunciations clearly undermine the legitimacy of their work and make them more vulnerable to attacks by armed groups.

Reports indicate that the Administrate Security Department ("DAS") that operates under Colombia Intelligence Agency and reports directly to the President has conducted illegal surveillance of lawyers and judges. It was exposed in early 2009 that between 2004 and 2006 DAS conducted its largest illegal surveillance and wiretapping of human rights lawyers, Supreme Court Justices, opposition politicians and other groups who did not support the current President Uribe's administration. In particular, DAS targeted the lawyers of a human rights organization called José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Association ("CAJAR"), an organization that denounces and investigates human rights violations in Colombia. The operation was dissolved following the discovery that the head of the DAS had passed on the names of union leaders to paramilitary leaders. This recent discovery of DAS's illegal surveillance has troubled many lawyers and judges because they question at what lengths the government will go to silence and intimidate them.

Human rights lawyers and judges in Colombia carry out their work in a climate of intimidation and insecurity where they are subjected to illegal surveillances, threats, baseless criminal charges, public denunciations and in some instances killings and disappearances. It appears that there is a lack of genuine commitment by the State to deal with the level of violence being directed against lawyers and judges.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is deeply concerned about lawyers' and judges' security and the illegal surveillances and public denunciations of lawyers and judges by the State demonstrate an erosion of democracy and the rule of law in Colombia.

The Law Society calls on the Colombian government to, 
1. cease all illegal surveillance against human rights lawyers and judges and illegal gathering of information by various intelligence services; 
2. end systemic stigmatisation of human rights lawyers.; 
3. publicly recognize the important and legitimate work of human rights lawyers and judges and their contribution to strengthening democracy and the rule of law; 
4. ensure that all lawyers and judges can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of arbitrary detention, ill treatment or other human rights violations; and

5. to respect their human rights obligations under national and international law.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for some 41, 000 lawyers in the Province of Ontario, Canada and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law. 
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in Colombia in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law and democracy.

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