Colombia violates right to defend human rights | IACtHR

Inter-American Court finds Colombia in violation of the right to defend human rights

In a historic decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights finds Colombia internationally responsible for violating the right to defend human rights

CAJAR Colombia team

CAJAR Colombia team

According to the ruling, the Colombian State carried out intelligence activities against human rights defenders in an arbitrary and illegal manner, who were also victims of acts of violence and stigmatization by State agents and third parties. The president of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR), the organization that brought the case, Yessika Hoyos Morales,* said this about the ruling: “There have been more than forty-five consecutive years of persecution against our human rights organization. The Colombian State has had the intention of preventing our lawyers from carrying out their work representing victims and fighting impunity because they were interested in putting an end to CAJAR. All this was paid for with taxes from Colombians, that is unacceptable.”

CAJAR further notes the following:

  • This is the first Inter-American Court decision in which the international responsibility of a state for violating the right to defend rights is recognized.
  • The judgment is a historic opportunity to compensate the victims, who for more than 45 years have worked in the defense of human rights in Colombia.
  • The ruling dignifies the struggles of the human rights movement and recognizes the lack of guarantees for the defense of human rights, which is why it includes reparation measures that protect the community that defends human rights.

LRWC further underlines the sentiments expressed by a member of CAJAR’s legal team,[1] highlighting that the decision “is a unique and unprecedented recognition of the work of people who defend human rights in Colombia and the CAJAR team that provides important guides to guarantee a safer and more vibrant space for the defense of rights without retaliation, without the risks that it has implied in recent decades as illustrated by the ruling.”

LRWC, together with Lawyers Without Borders Canada, intervened at two levels in this case, submitting amicus briefs at the first level in support of CAJAR’s petition before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and more recently, when the petition was referred by the Commission to the Inter-American Court.

CAJAR’s article about the decision is found here, in Spanish and English:


*Yessika Hoyos was a feature speaker at the 2022 Day of the Endangered Lawyers event co-organized by the Law Society of Ontario, LRWC and Human Rights Watch.[2] Yessika received a threat as recently as January 29, 2024.[3] LRWC outlined the dire situation of Colombian lawyers and defenders, including CAJAR, in an article in the legal publication, Slaw, in early 2022.[4]

[1] Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).