COLOMBIA: Lawyer Carlos Enrique Maldonado, victim of serious and worrying stigmatisation for defending peasant communities affected by the armed conflict
27 October 2022
Carlos Enrique Maldonado is a human rights lawyer leading the environmental and land defence area at Equipo Jurídico Pueblos (EJP). The EJP is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation of lawyers and human rights defenders based in the city of Bucaramanga, Santander. The Equipo focuses its work on the defence of the land, the environment and the human rights of prisoners, and fights against impunity for crimes committed by Colombian state agents in the northeast of Colombia.
Over the years, the EJP has been the target of accusations and stigmatising comments which even led to the opening of criminal proceedings against some of its members, currently shelved, for alleged links with the criminal group ‘Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)’.
These serious accusations have now been reiterated and extended to Carlos Enrique Maldonado’s work as a lawyer for two communities that have been victims of the Colombian armed conflict in the municipality of Chimichagua, Cesar department. At the administrative level, he has been accused of being part of a criminal organisation and of committing the crime of conspiracy by ensuring the judicial and administrative defence of these peasant communities.
Recently, a digital media published a report in which municipal officers accused Carlos of procedural disloyalty for defending the communities. Similarly, the editorial line of the report stigmatises Carlos Enrique’s links with the Equipo Jurídico Pueblos, and in turn with the ELN. The report concludes that the lawyers of this organisation, mainly Carlos, use peasant communities to invade private land.
The situation is of great concern given the presence of illegal organisations in the region and armed civilians on the ground, who on numerous occasions have approached communities to intimidate them, even in the presence of lawyers such as Carlos. This is extremely worrying given that such stigmatising comments have historically been the basis for criminal organisations to kill human rights defenders in the most remote areas of Colombia, such as Chimichagua.
The Observatory condemns the stigmatising accusations and comments suffered by Carlos Enrique Maldonado and the other members of the Equipo Jurídico Pueblos, which jeopardise their life and physical integrity and constitute an obstacle to the free and independent practice of law, as well as to the effective access to justice of the victims.
The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to ensure the effective protection of all members of Equipo Juridico Pueblos and other human rights lawyers in Colombia.
The Observatory calls on the Colombian authorities to ensure the cessation of any stigmatisation against lawyer Carlos Enrique Maldonado and the Equipo Jurídico Pueblos.
The Observatory reminds the Colombian authorities 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 accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):
« 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 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)