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22 March 2024

On March 18, 2024, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) issued its judgment in the case of Members of the Corporation Lawyers Collective “José Alvear Restrepo” (CAJAR) Vs. Colombia.


The Court found Colombia internationally responsible for violating the rights to life, personal integrity, privacy, freedom of thought and expression, informational self-determination, truth, honor, judicial guarantees, judicial protection, freedom of association, movement and residence, protection of the family, rights of children, and the right to defend human rights, to the detriment of certain members of CAJAR, a non-governmental organization dedicated to defending and promoting human rights, and their families.


Arbitrary intelligence activities that violate human rights


The Court determined that, since the 1990s, various state institutions carried out arbitrary intelligence activities against CAJAR members and their families, activities that continued during the implementation of Law 1621 of 2013. Public authorities retained personal information, from which they compiled files containing records of various natures regarding the victims, who were not guaranteed access to this information. Similarly, the Court pointed out that several state officials and publications from public offices issued discrediting statements against CAJAR members, associating them with guerrilla groups, thus subjecting them to stigmatization.


For the first time, the Court determined the autonomous character of the right to defend human rights


It is worth noting that, for the first time, the Court determined a violation to the autonomous character of the right to defend human rights, which implies the possibility of freely exercising different activities aimed at protecting human rights. The Court also determined the violation of the autonomous right to informational self-determination, which includes the right to access and control personal data in public archives. Additionally, the Court emphasized the differentiated situation of women human rights defenders and the impact of violence generated by persecution on the lives of their children.


Reparation measures


In its judgment, the Court ordered the following reparation measures:


a) the obligation of Colombian authorities to investigate the acts of violence committed;

b) the cleansing of intelligence archives to ensure victims’ effective access to their information;

c) conducting a national information campaign to raise awareness in Colombian society regarding the violence and stigmatization suffered by human rights defenders;

d) designing and implementing a data collection system and figures related to cases of violence against human rights defenders;

e) adapting Law 1621 of 2013 so that its regulation is compatible with conventional standards on the matter;

f) enacting the necessary regulations to implement mechanisms or procedures that guarantee the right to informational self-determination, and finally;

g) adapting intelligence and counterintelligence manuals to align them with international standards on the matter.


Lawyers Without Borders Canada welcomes the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and expresses solidarity with the members of CAJAR, who have never ceased to fight for their rights.


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