Lawyers for Lawyers is concerned about the ongoing threats, harassment and the lack of progress in the investigations of aggressions towards Andrea Torres Bautista, Colombian human rights lawyer and co-director of the Fundación Nydia Erik Bautista (FNEB).
Andrea Torres heads the legal department of the Nydia Erik Bautista foundation which was set up by mainly female- family members of victims of enforced disappearances in Colombia. The FNEB is a key player in legal representation, visibility, and support for victims of enforced disappearances, sexual violence and police brutality in Colombia. Andrea Torres represents victims in various cases, both in the regular justice system and in the transitional justice system (JEP), in which the main defendants are tried members of the Colombian army. More specifically, among the cases she represents are: representation of victims of police abuse, including sexual violence, the representation of young people who have been criminalized during the 2021 protests and the FNEB has temporarily stopped the expansion of the Port of Buenaventura in the Estero San Antonio area due to indications that remains of disappeared relatives of persons represented by the FNEB have been dumped in the area.
Andrea Torres has been threatened several times. On 21 May 2022, Andrea Torres and her husband were kidnapped while heading home in a taxi, all of their personal belongings were robbed, they were physically attacked with a knife, verbally assaulted and Andrea was sexually harassed as well. This happened just after Ms. Torres had sent away her state-provided bodyguards. Later, it appeared that her and her family members e-mail accounts which contained sensitive information and credit cards were hacked.
Later in June, someone broke into the office of FNEB and stole information. This included the camera with the testimonies from victims and witnesses, photographs of victims and employees and court cases. This theft occurred days after the foundation presented recommendations to the chair of the Truth Commission to include in the final report the structural problems of impunity, discrimination and exclusion that victims of enforced disappearances have historically faced. Besides, there was proof of the person who entered the office on a security camera but the police didn’t do anything with this because the evidence was not good enough according to the police.
Despite the Public Prosecutor being aware of these repeated security incidents and attacks against FNEB, no progress has been made in investigations and no results have been made in terms of identifying the perpetrators and those responsible.
In December 2022, another incident took place. Ms. Torres visited Europe and on arrival in Spain, her first stop, she realized that her suitcase had been opened. It appeared that the documents, her clothes and other personal belongings she carried with her were searched. A continuation of espionage activities against Andrea Torres.
The professional activity of Ms. Torres is limited due to the threats and risks she faces as a lawyer who deals with cases with specific reference to enforced disappearances but also cases of sexual violence. Therefore, Ms. Andrea Torres advocates a law called ‘Ley para Mujeres Buscadoras’ which should protect women who are trying to investigate the cases of their loved-ones and family members. Too often they are being sexually assaulted and hindered while doing this investigation.
We are concerned that the theft which led to the seizure of highly important documents, was conducted in violation of legal professional privilege. The confidentiality of lawyer-client communications and lawyers’ files are protected under international human rights law as part of the right to a fair trial.
We are furthermore concerned that the robbery and verbal and physical assault and harassment of Ms. Torres are connected to, and serve to unlawfully curb her legitimate activities as an attorney.
We draw your attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers1 , particularly Article 16 and 22, which state:
16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (…) 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.
22.Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential.
In view of the above, Lawyers for Lawyers respectfully urges the Colombian authorities to:
- Investigate all the abuses against Ms. Torres and FNEB and put an end to all acts of harassment against Andrea Torres, including at the judicial level;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in Colombia are able to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restriction
- Guarantee that the Special Jurisdisction for Peace (JEP) extends the precautionary measures that cover the San Antonio estuary in the city of Benaventura, in order to facilitate the work of Andrea and other lawyers who represent the relatives legally.