The Law Society of Upper Canada condemns the persecution of human rights lawyers and activists in Colombia, and expresses grave concern about the bounty offered by paramilitary groups for the assassination of lawyer, José Humberto Torres.
Reliable reports indicate that a call has been made for the assassination of Mr. Torres, a noted Colombian human rights defender. Paramilitary groups have made it known that they will pay a bounty equivalent to US $120,000 to anyone who assassinates Mr. Torres.
Mr. Torres is a member of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee. For the past 30 years, he has represented human rights defenders and political prisoners. He is also the spokesperson of the National Platform for Human Rights. Recently he called for a criminal investigation of the links between paramilitaries and the Colombian Congress. He has been involved in cases against state officials in the past, including a case which resulted in the conviction of the former Director of the Civilian Security Department for the extrajudicial killing of academic Alfredo Correa de Andreis in 2004.
International human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that judicial independence and human rights are necessary to advancing the rule of law.
The Law Society of Upper Canada believes that Mr. Torres is being targeted because of his legitimate human rights work, and urges the Colombia authorities to,
- take immediate steps to ensure that Mr. Torres is adequately protected against threats to his physical and psychological integrity;
- ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations;
- put an end to all acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights lawyers in Colombia;
- ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Colombia; and
- uphold the Rule of Law as defined by public international law.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for some 43,000 lawyers and 4,000 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in Colombia in their effort to maintain the independence of the legal profession, to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.