Solicitors from Thompsons recently joined a delegation of over 50 lawyers from around the world to visit seven regions in Colombia.

The delegation heard testimonies from over 100 victims and victims’ families, trade unionists, lawyers, judges and human rights defenders. Members interviewed state officials including the Public Prosecutor, the General of the 3rd Army Mountain Battalion, Prison Directors and the Chief Human Rights Adviser to the Vice President. Members of the delegation also attended criminal and Justice and Peace hearings.

The delegation concluded that human rights abuses continue throughout Colombia and victims and their families are denied access to justice.

Evidence gathered included:

  • A meeting with Carmen Mayusa, regional leader of the health union ANTHOC. Carmen was released on 18 June 2008 after 25 months and 7 days on remand accused of rebellion.  The Public Prosecutor has appealed the decision to release her. On 8 August 2008 her brother, Luis Mayusa a trade unionist and Democratic Pole candidate in the last election, was murdered.
  • Guillermo Rivera, president of Sinserpub, the public sector union in Bogota, was reported missing on 22 April 2008. Witnesses stated that the police had taken him away. He was buried by the authorities in an anonymous grave 2 days later despite him being classed as a missing person. Upon exhumation on 15 July there was evidence of torture before he died.  A meeting with the Public Prosecutor, Mr Iguarana, led to a guarantee that he was treating Guillermo Rivera’s murder as a priority, assigning a special team to the case.
  • Mr Iguarana disputed the figures of 3000 trade unionist murders in the last fifteen years. He accepted a figure of 1200 but confirmed that there had only been 50 convictions. 41 trade unionists have been murdered this year
  • A meeting with a lawyer who has received more than 20 death threats this year. According to Lawyers Without Borders 400 lawyers have been murdered in Colombia since 1996. 24 lawyers were murdered in Cali in 2004 with no convictions.
  • A visit to “La Villa Hermosa” (“The Beautiful House”) the prison in Cali where 4000 prisoners are held. The capacity is 1600. A meeting with the Prison Director confirmed that most prisoners slept on floors, corridors and on the stairs. 2500 prisoners are on remand. 1600 pesos (50p) is spent on 3 meals per day for each prisoner served at 6.30am, 11.30am and 2.30pm. They do not therefore receive any food for 16 hours.
  • Meetings with judges confirmed government interference and police corruption in criminal cases