COLOMBIA: Andrea Torres Bautista, a human rights lawyer, has been victim of kidnapping, serious threats and gender-based violence, as well as the theft of sensitive information in a cyber attack
4 July 2022
Andrea Torres Bautista is a human rights lawyer, legal coordinator and deputy director of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB). FNEB is an organisation composed mainly of women relatives of victims, and has been a major actor in the legal representation, visibility and support for victims of enforced disappearance, sexual violence and police abuse in Colombia. Andrea Torres represents victims in different cases, both in the ordinary justice system and in the transitional justice system (JEP), in which the main defendants are members of the Colombian armed forces.
The Observatory has received information about serious threats against lawyer Andrea Torres Bautista. On 21 May, the lawyer was kidnapped, physically assaulted and had all her belongings stolen. According to the lawyer, the events occurred while she and her husband were returning home by taxi. Exceptionally, the lawyer was not in the presence of her bodyguards from the National Protection Unit (UNP). During the attack, carried out by four men, the human rights defender and her husband were physically and verbally assaulted and threatened with a knife. Subsequently, email accounts containing confidential legal information, credit cards and lawyer’s Facebook account were hacked and blocked.
After these events, on the morning of 5 June in Bogotá, a man forced his way into the Foundation’s headquarters. Sensitive information was stolen, including testimonies of victims of enforced disappearances and sexual violence, court cases, internal and external events of the organisation, photographs of victims and members of the working team. The stolen information places the directors and team of FNEB, as well as more than 400 victims and women who are supported by the organisation, at serious risk. It is remarkable that the theft occurred days after the Foundation presented recommendations to the President of the Truth Commission to address in its Final Report the structural problems of impunity, discrimination and exclusion that have historically affected the victims of enforced disappearance.
It should be noted that in recent months, Andrea Torres and other members of the FNEB have reported increased harassment against them, allegations of multiple illegal intelligence activities, hundreds of attempts to hack into their website, surveillance and photographic recordings.
Despite the fact that the Prosecutor’s Office is fully aware of the repeated security incidents and systematic attacks against FNEB, the investigations have not made any progress or produced any results with regard to the identification of the perpetrators and masterminds.
Due to the high risk of attacks and intimidation against her, Andrea Torres Bautista benefits from precautionary measures of the Inter-American Commission (IACHR) and a protection regime granted by the National Protection Unit (UNP).
The Observatory is concerned about these serious acts which endanger the free and independent practice of law and the effective access to justice for victims.
The Observatory strongly condemns the attacks on lawyer Andrea Torres Bautista and the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation and calls on the Colombian authorities to investigate and punish the perpetrators with all due diligence.
The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to ensure that all attacks against lawyer Andrea Torres Bautista and other human rights lawyers in Colombia cease.
In view of this situation, the Observatory recalls that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations 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 and 18;
The International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger demands:
To the National Protection Unit to maintain the current protection scheme for Andrea Torres Bautista and to expedite the granting of a collective regime for the organisation Nydia Erika Bautista with immediate and sufficient resources to strengthen the security conditions of her office.
To the United Nations, the European Union and other international organisations, their active involvement in monitoring the actions of the authorities in accordance with national/international obligations concerning the respect of fundamental rights and the guarantee of their real and effective exercise.
The Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the circumstances of how, when and where the threats were made and to enable those responsible to be cleared up and punished. In particular, it is requested that the investigations be conducted in a comprehensive manner, including all the facts reported over the years, and in particular over the last few months. To this end, it is a priority that the case be handled by a specialised prosecutor’s office under the direct supervision of Colombia’s Deputy Attorney General. In accordance with Directive 002/2017 of the Attorney General’s Office, the first hypothesis of investigation must be directly related to the exercise of the human rights defence notoriously carried out by the victims.