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Colombia: The Observatory condemns the harassment of lawyer Luz Estella Romero Villalba and her family 

 4 May 2022

Luz Estella Romero Villalba is under severe attack for her work as a human rights lawyer in Colombia.  The harassment is directed against her and in particular against her family, having suffered an attempt to forcibly disappear her son. 

Luz Estella Romero Villalba is an ecofeminist human rights lawyer in Colombia, where she represents and coordinates the Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho (COLEMAD). COLEMAD focuses its work on the promotion, respect and defence of the human rights of women, girls, youth and marginalised communities, as well as on environmental and territorial issues. As of 2019, COLEMAD has consultative status with the United Nations.

With regard to legal cases, COLEMAD carries out strategic litigation by accompanying organisations and women’s groups that are victims of the armed conflict before ordinary courts (criminal and administrative), courts such as Justice and Peace (Law 975), a special court for land restitution and an administrative mechanism for collective reparation (Law 1448), and a special court for Peace-JEP (Final Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC-EP).

As a result of her defence work, between December 2019 and today, lawyer Luz Romero has suffered 4 serious attacks against her, members of her family, COLEMAD headquarters and third parties in her social and professional environment.

On 26 December 2019, Luz Romero’s son was the victim of an attempted kidnapping and enforced disappearance, with physical and psychological torture. In addition to this serious incident, the lawyer denounces a permanent harassment of her family and in particular of her son, consisting of visible surveillance, threats by phone, mail and even in person.

In addition, according to the information received, the lawyer and other members of COLEMAD have been subjected to cyber-attacks and attempted intrusions into their professional headquarters by the Colombian security forces and private individuals. These situations directly violate the right to professional secrecy and jeopardise the confidentiality of sensitive information about the victims they defend.

Although we denounced each incident and demanded an investigation and protection, there was no effective response from the authorities; instead, they tried to minimise what happened.

This high-risk situation affecting the lawyer and her family resulted in her forced displacement, interruption of her professional practice and emotional exhaustion with strong repercussions on her physical health. 

The Observatory strongly condemns the threats, persecution and harassment against lawyer Luz Estella Romero Villalba and her family.

The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to ensure that all attacks against lawyer Luz Estella Romero Villalba and other human rights lawyers in Colombia are stopped.

In this context, The Observatory recalls that the independence of lawyers is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in line with the provisions of the UN Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

Therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17, 18 and 22 which state that

Principle 16: “ Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics. “

Principle 17: “ Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”

Principle 18: “ Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients‘ causes as a result of discharging their functions.“

Principle 22: “ Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential. “