Twenty-five North American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accused the Colombian government Monday of endangering lives by “attempting to discredit” lawyers defending the victims of a 1997 massacre.
A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights highlights their “extreme concern” over declarations made by the Colombian government against the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CAJAR), which represented alleged victims of the Mapiripan massacre, and the Inter-American Human Rights System, which ordered their financial compensation.
Statements made by Colombia’s President Juan Manual Santos and his government that “attempt to discredit the Collective” and “seek to undermine the Inter-American Human Rights System” are putting lives at risk, it warns.
Colombia’s Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra is visiting the Inter-American Human Rights Court on Tuesday to ask for a reconsideration of its 2005 ruling which ordered the government to pay $8 million to 49 victims of the massacre.
Following the original ruling, Colombia’s prosecutor general carried out a new investigation which concluded only ten people could be confirmed as dead, and found that some of those alleged to have died in the 1997 attack were still alive.
Esguerra said “The aim is to make sure the IACHR is aware of these types of situations and takes care to make sure they don’t happen again.”
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos had called the IACHR’s ruling a “mockery of the international human rights system,” while Esguerra has accused alleged false victims and their lawyers of a “shameless conspiracy to defraud the Colombian state”.
The CCR asserts that “such statements continue to make Colombia a dangerous place for human rights defenders, given regular threats, illegal surveillance and infiltration to which human rights defenders are subject in Colombia.” The groups, which made the remarks via written statements and signed petitions, are based in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Victims’ lawyers have vigorously denied any accusations of fraud, and the IACHR has pointed out repeatedly that the case was based on information originally provided by the Colombian state itself.