COLOMBIA: Sir Henry Brooke 2024 prize awarded to lawyer Adil Meléndez, who denounces the withdrawal of protection measures
1 February 2024
The Observatory welcomes the decision of the Alliance of Lawyers at Risk CIO to award its Sir Henry Brooke 2024 Prize to the lawyer Adil Meléndez, for his courage, determination and exceptional commitment to the defence of human rights and the rule of law in Colombia.
However, during the award ceremony, which took place on 23 January 2024 in London, the lawyer was notified of the decision by the National Protection Unit (UNP)  to withdraw the security measures he had been benefiting from.
Adil Meléndez is a well-known lawyer who has worked tirelessly to represent displaced, Afro-descendant, indigenous and peasant communities in emblematic land restitution cases, as well as victims of high-level corruption and crimes perpetrated by paramilitary groups in Colombia.
The Observatory has already denounced and condemned the attacks on lawyer Adil Meléndez through alerts and statements directed at the Colombian government. Mr Meléndez has been the victim of death threats and assassination attempts on several occasions. The situation of risk was recognised by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which granted precautionary measures to guarantee his protection in 2006, considering that the risk he faced stemmed from his defence activities.
The Observatory deplores the decision of the National Protection Unit which leaves Adil Meléndez in a situation of total absence of protection, exposing the lawyer to serious risks for his life and that of his family.
The Observatory urges the Colombian authorities, and in particular the National Protection Unit, to reverse their decision and to take all necessary measures to guarantee the protection of Mr Melendez and to respect the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.
In view of this situation, the Observatory reminds the Colombian authorities of the provisions of the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16 and 17:
“Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference (…).” (Principle 16)
“Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.” (Principle 17)
Principe 16 : « Les pouvoirs publics veillent à ce que les avocats a) puissent s’acquitter de toutes leurs fonctions professionnelles sans entrave, intimidation, harcèlement ni ingérence indue;(…) »
Principe 17 : « Lorsque la sécurité des avocats est menacée dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions, ils doivent être protégés comme il convient par les autorités. »
 The National Protection Unit (UNP) is the Colombian institution responsible for analysing requests for protection, carrying out risk studies and managing prevention and protection measures for people and communities whose lives, integrity and personal freedom are threatened by the development of their activities.
Colombia: The Observatory condemns new death threats against lawyer Adil Meléndez for defending communities affected by human rights and environmental violations
26th April, 2023
Adil José Meléndez Márquez represents victims of land expropriation and families of people killed by paramilitary forces in the Caribbean region of Colombia. Lawyer Meléndez Márquez advocates against multinationals that threaten the lives of peasant communities, being the main lawyer of those who oppose the Canal del Dique mega-project, whose implementation would imply a serious deterioration of the environment that would directly affect the lives of peasant communities in the Cartagena de Indias area.
On Tuesday 10 April 2023, the lawyer received a message on his phone signed by the paramilitary group “autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia”, also known as the Clan del Golfo, in which he was threatened with death for defending victims in the Cartagena district and its surroundings. As reported to police authorities, in addition to the lawyer, 10 other people received similar threats on the same day, including social leaders, journalists and pre-candidates for mayor of Cartagena de Indias.
The Observatory strongly condemns these new threats against lawyer Adil José Meléndez Márquez and recalls that this is not an isolated incident. The last death threat he received, for opposing the Canal del Dique, only a few months ago (17 August 2022), was sent to him and two other colleagues, accompanied by a funeral wreath.
The Observatory is concerned by these acts of intimidation which jeopardise the free and independent practice of the law, as well as the effective access to justice of the victims he represents.
The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to guarantee the safety of Adil José Meléndez Vázquez and to implement the necessary measures to ensure his physical integrity and his right to exercise his profession without pressure.
The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to investigate and punish the perpetrators of these threats with all due diligence, without impunity.
Against this background, the Observatory recalls that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and consolidation of the rule of law. This is in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles for the Role of Lawyers.
Therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles for the Role of Lawyers, in particular Principles 16, 17 and 18 which state the following:
Principle 16: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;(…)”
Principle 17: “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of the exercise of their functions, they shall receive adequate protection from the authorities.”
Principle 18: “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or with the causes of their clients as a consequence of the performance of their functions.”
6th December, 2019
On 6 December 2019, Adil Meléndez was threatened by a phone call and filed a complaint with the competent authorities. Mr. Meléndez believes that this threat is directly related to his work as a lawyer, as a defender of alleged perpetrators of human rights violations who have expressed their willingness to appear before the Special Court for Peace (JEP) and tell the truth.
These threats not only hinder Mr. Meléndez’s ability to freely exercise his profession as a lawyer, but also the realization of the right of access to justice and the right of victims to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition, which are the pillars on which the Colombian transitional justice system is based.
Furthermore, the protection regime for Mr. Meléndez has not been sufficiently adapted to respond to the current risk situation. In March 2019, several organizations, including the International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger, expressed to the Colombian authorities their concern regarding the revocation in December 2018 of the armoured vehicle provided to him by the National Protection Unit (UNP) and its replacement by an ordinary car. To date, we do not know whether the protection regime in favour of Mr. Meléndez has been strengthened to ensure his safety and whether it is appropriate for a high level of risk.
We also note that because of this high level of risk, Mr. Meléndez has had to seek financial support from Front Line Defenders to put in place additional protective measures at his home and office.
Some of the signatory organisations are working closely with Mr Meléndez and have met with him on several occasions, such as during Mr Meléndez’s last visit to Europe in December 2019. Their work is essential to promote justice and protect human rights in Colombia, particularly in the Caribbean region.
In 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted Mr. Meléndez precautionary measures, in turn requesting the Colombian government to take the necessary measures to protect his physical integrity and allow him to carry out his work. We presume that the IACHR continues to monitor his safety.
The OIAD strongly condemns the threats against lawyer Adil Meléndez Márquez.
The OIAD encourages the Colombian authorities to implement the necessary measures to ensure the life and work of this lawyer by reviewing and renewing his protection regime.
The OIAD fully supports all Colombian human rights lawyers who put their lives at risk for the legitimate exercise of their profession.
The OIAD reminds the Colombian authorities of the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which state that “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities” (Principle No. 17).