Congratulations to our Bertha Justice Initiative partner organization in Colombia, Lawyers Collective “José Alvear Restrepo”, CCAJAR, for receiving the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award from the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA).
Each year, this award is given to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the movement for global justice. The inspiration was Judith Lee Stronach (1943-2002) who was instrumental in the founding of CJA. The CJA is committed to fighting crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights, primarily through high impact litigation and support for transitional justice mechanisms.
We are proud to support CCAJAR through our Bertha Justice Initiative program, having supported four Bertha fellows at their organization since 2013, including Jomary Ortegon, CCAJAR’s new President. This award could not come at a better time: we have had growing concerns about safety and protection issues for lawyers at CCAJAR and, in particular, for our Bertha fellow alumni Yessika Hoyos, who has been suffered increasing threats and intimidation. We very much hope that this award, through recognizing the work of CCAJAR and raising awareness about that work, will contribute to providing protection to Yessika and our CCAJAR colleagues through increased visibility.
Included below is CCAJAR’s statement upon receiving the award.
Jen Robinson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Bertha Justice Initiative, Bertha Foundation
Follow the Bertha Justice Initiative on Twitter @Be_Just_
Follow Jen on Twitter @suigenerisjen
“We are an organization that has worked in Colombia for over 38 years, defending human rights and representing the victims of State crimes in their search for justice.
Our country is a paradoxical one: lush beauty, countless natural resources and enviable laws, but a shameful human rights record. More than 6000 members of the opposition party Patriotic Union (Patriótica Unión) were assassinated in the largest political genocide in recent history. More than 7 million small-scale farmers have been driven from their land, which ended up in the hands of large landowners and transnational companies. More than 3000 trade union members have been murdered for demanding their rights and defending our national sovereignty. Just in the last 5 years, more than 350 human rights defenders have been killed.
It is because of the work that we do that we have been victims of this persecution. We have been stigmatized, surveilled, and threatened. For many years we were the target of an enormous illegal intelligence operation led by the State’s security agency (DAS), and this became a real psychological torture for many of our peers and their families. CCAJAR’s president at the time received a box with a dismembered bloody doll inside and a note that said “you have a very nice family, take care of it”. It was a horrific message directed at her young daughter, who was being followed.
In this scenario of persecution and death, the perpetrators have not been able to take away our dreams; they have not been able to steal our hope, our ability to continue fighting; or the courage to live joyfully and fully.
This resistance largely comes as a result of solidarity, which gives us courage and allows us to overcome despair. […]
Today Colombia is on the verge of ending an armed conflict that has lasted over half a century, and with this the hope that our land will not continue to bleed. It is a very important step for Colombia, and dream we have had for generations.
However, we fear we still may go down a dark path as it happened in other countries in Latin America that have experienced similar processes. As we get closer to final peace agreement, the grip of threats and attacks gets tighter and tighter. This year alone, 28 human rights defenders have been killed. This is why we ask all of you to continue supporting us and the people of Colombia.
The signing of the peace agreement will end the armed conflict, but it does not guarantee an end to the persecution, human rights violations, and state crimes.
We cry out for your active presence in the new challenges that will come. It is urgent that there is guarantees of non-repetition so that these pages of horror are not repeated, and instead, Colombia achieves a real democracy, one based on the protection of human rights, peace, and social justice.
Thank you very much.”
Read the full speech in Spanish, here.
Read the full speech in English, here.