The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective Corporation (CCAJAR) is a non-governmental organisation with over 35 years’ experience in defending human rights and fighting impunity. During its long trajectory it has accompanied the victims of megaprojects, farming communities, indigenous and afro-descendant people, students, human rights defenders, land and territory, community leaders, political prisoners, women, journalists and trade unionists. It promotes truth, justice and integral reparation for serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.
The main force behind CCAJAR’s creation (in 1978) were a group of professionals who gave legal assistance to people from low-income sectors who were being subjected to political persecution and human rights violations such as arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, massacres and torture. CCAJAR was born two years later, as one of Colombia’s first human rights NGOs. Since then the organisation has taken on the promotion and defence of economic, social and cultural rights, and created a team dedicated to international work with inter-governmental bodies (United Nations, Organization of American States (OAS), International Labour Organisation (ILO)).
CCAJAR is affiliated to the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and is registered at the OAS. In Colombia it is a member of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), takes part in the Colombia Europe United States Coordination (CCEEU) and is part of the Plataforma Colombiana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo.
CCAJAR’s litigation and casework on behalf of victims and organisations has led to national and international legal precedents and emblematic decisions which brought to light evidence of the State’s responsibility for numerous appalling incidents in Colombia’s history. These include the recent sentences handed down to those who partook in the forced disappearance of the people from the Palace of Justice, the Trujillo Massacre, and ensuing the public apologies from the State for their responsibility in the incidents. These cases were significant, but they also had an impact on the Colombian justice system, contributing to bringing historic clarity to socio-political violence, building truth and vindicating the right to truth as necessary and deeply relevant to the Colombian context.
The organisation currently has 15 lawyers and about 30 legal assistants. They are working on over 500 cases of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.
Illegal activities by the DAS
The Department of Administrative Security (DAS) was, until 2011, the principal Colombian State intelligence agency and was directly answerable to the Presidency. During the two administrations of Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002-2010), this intelligence agency unleashed the systematic and generalised persecution of opposition leaders, members of the judiciary, journalists and human rights organisations, by monitoring their communications, following them and putting them under surveillance, carrying out information theft, sabotage of their activities, smear campaigns, threats, psychological torture and even murder, amongst many other illegal intelligence activities which were carried out within Colombia’s own borders as well as abroad. Read more
Murder of trade union leader Jorge Dario Hoyos Franco
Since 2002, CCAJAR has represented the relatives of Jorge Dario Hoyos Franco, a trade union, civic and community leader, member of the Patriotic Union Movement, who advised on the creation of different trade union organsiations, conflict resolution and collective negotiation with many other unions inside Colombia and abroad. Jorge Dario Hoyos was murdered on 3 March 2001 by members of military intelligence in alliance with paramilitaries from Casanare who were also active in Cundinamarca. Read more
CCAJAR represents approximately 130 victims of alleged extrajudicial killings committed by officers, sub-officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces. Read more
The Barrancabermeja Massacre
This massacre took place on 16 May 1998 in Barrancabermeja (Santander), when highly armed paramilitaries murdered seven local inhabitants and forcibly disappeared another 25 people who had been taking part in a community fundraising event. Since 1998, CCAJAR has represented 21 victims and, so far, has succeeded in consolidating convictions for approximately 20 paramilitaries, and in 6 members of the armed forces (Army, Police and DAS) being linked to the investigation, as well as the assistant head of security of Ecopetrol. The massacre took place as a result of a series of actions and omissions by members of the Colombian security forces. Read more
The Trujillo Massacre
The Trujillo Massacre refers to multiple and successive human rights violations committed between 1988 and 1994 in the municipalities of Trujillo, Bolivar, and Riofrio, (Valle del Cauca), including enforced disappearances, torture and the murders of approximately 340 people at the hands of a coordinated criminal structure which included members of the Army, Police, local politicians and paramilitaries from the North Valle cartel. This systematic annihilation of the civilian population was carried out in order to secure this strategic corridor to the Pacific coast, where the civilian population was repeatedly accused of assisting insurgent groups which were present in the area. Read more
Towards peace with truth and justice
“The road to peace is through justice”
As part of the peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrillas, CCAJAR presented a proposal for transitional justice, with the participation of victims and members of social movements, which works to consolidate peace on the basis of two main principles which were included in the Havana peace negotiations:
The creation of a Special Peace Tribunal: “this should be of mixed character, which is to say both national and international, and those who should submit themselves to it are those who want to contribute to peace and to dismantling the criminal structures which have been and continue to be responsible for international crimes”.
The adoption of guarantees of non-repetition: CCAJAR proposes that structural changes to the State’s functions are required to guarantee that human rights violations are not repeated. These include strengthening the investigative and prosecutional institutions, dismantling neo-paramilitary groups, reducing military spending and eradicating abuses by security forces during public demonstrations, including other measures.
Memory Schools for Non-Repetition
In 2016, CCAJAR, together with MOVICE and the Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CPDH) proposed that the educational process “Memory Schools for Non-Repetition” be developed to help uncover the truth and construct a collective narrative of the conflict and its causes, by using the voices of victims and consolidating peace with guarantees of non-repetition. These training processes bring together victims from different sections of Colombian society to reflect at a local level on how the regions have been affected, on the actors, their interests and their strategies throughout the years. In this way they create their own mapping, based on their experiences and emphasising the different kinds of resilience which enable them to remain on their land. Their purpose is to begin to understand how the truth can fulfil the rights of victims at this key moment in Colombia’s history.
“Constructing memory is not the same as remembering, because remembering implies repetition; the victims build memory precisely to avoid repetition, so that nobody else relives the violence or the State terrorism which Colombia has been through. In this sense, the process of constructing memory is a key moment when victims become political subjects, when their history transcends the individual sphere and becomes an important part of the collective narrative of thousands and thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers and children, who take on the responsibility of reminding society about what happened and demanding that State violence will NEVER AGAIN be carried out against anyone. This is how memory becomes a powerful mobilising force and a key scenario for building guarantees of non-repetition.”
Risks, threats and attacks
Throughout the years, CCAJAR has been the victim of threats, public smears and attacks against its credibility, stigmatisation, harassment and surveillance. In addition, its members are subjected to repeated attacks on social media, especially on Twitter. The years 2014 and 2015 were marked by threats made in widespread emails and leaflets, signed by the ‘Black Eagles Capital Block’ against members of human rights organisations, the social movement, the political opposition and several media outlets, all of whom are involved in activities relating to the peace negotiations.
Read more on the most serious incidents against CCAJAR from 2004 to 2016.
CCAJAR has precautionary protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2001. In April 2011, the organisation rejected the protection measures given to them by the Government after an increase in media attacks, harassment and threats. After negotiating with the Government, CCAJAR agreed to have the measures reinstated and currently has the use of several bullet-proof cars.
Former member of CCAJAR and current member of the House of Representatives, Alirio Uribe emphasises that “six State-provided bullet-proof cars are actually insufficient to meet CCAJAR’s protection needs”.
For CCAJAR, political protection measures are an even more important way to ensure their work is not de-legitimised. Alirio Uribe highlights that “it is very important for the State to stop referring to legal warfare and saying that in Colombia, we lawyers are waging legal warfare against the State”. According to the lawyer, the consequence of these kinds of statements by public officials is that illegal armed groups declare them to be military targets. Expressions of public support for the lawyers’ work by the Colombian Government and investigating the threats are other important political measures for CCAJAR.
Awards and recognition
The integral support which CCAJAR gives to victims, and its advocacy in general, have earned CCAJAR and its members many awards:
- Lawyer Luis Guillermo Pérez received the Human Rights Award of the City of Weimar, Germany, 1996.
- Lawyer Alirio Uribe was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, Switzerland, 2003.
- Lawyer Soraya Gutiérrez received the American Bar Association International Human Rights Award, United States, 2006.
- Lawyer Soraya Gutiérrez was nominated for the Human Rights Defender Award from Irish NGO Frontline Defenders, 2006.
- Lawyer Yessika Hoyos received the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award from the US trade union AFL-CIO, United States, 2008.
- CCAJAR won the National Award for the Defence of Human Rights in the “Collective Process” category, from the DIAL Inter-Agency Dialogue Coordination, Colombia, 2012.
- CCAJAR received the Human Rights Award, International Category, of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España, APRODEH, Spain, 2015.
- CCAJAR was awarded the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award from the Center for Justice and Accountability, CJA, United States, 2016.
- Lawyer Eduardo Carreño was a finalist for the National Human Rights Award in the “Lifetime recognition” category, Colombia, 2016.
Being a finalist is an honour, and recognises the efforts of many years, of taking up causes which deserve to be articulated in all their legal dimensions, whether it is defending those who are imprisoned or persecuted for political reasons, representing victims of State crimes, or doing national or international advocacy. This conviction for defending human rights has in many cases saved many lives, and I will hold it until the last day I live. I think that great work awaits us, we will have to move forward under the jurisdiction for peace, but soon or later, the government will also have to understand that it needs to resolve the problems with the ELN and completely dismantle paramilitarism. These are tasks for all of us, and we all need to pitch in to see them through. I am very thankful to PBI for the moments we’ve shared and for this nomination, which represents their great efforts to get recognition for organisations who work in regions with very difficult conditions. Eduardo Carreño
PBI has accompanied CCAJAR since 1995.
“International accompaniment, especially the accompaniment of Peace Brigades International, has been decisive in enabling us to continue our work as human rights defenders and lawyers, accompanying processes and victims who have suffered grave human rights violations. We believe that without the international accompaniment we have received from organisations like PBI, we could not have continued, because of the serious attacks, the persecution and the great powers which have been levelled against our very existence as an organisation, and that is why we believe that Peace Brigades’ accompaniment is vital for us to continue our work.” Dora Lucy Arias Giraldo, Lawyer with CCAJAR
 On 6 November 2015, Juan Manuel Santos, the Head of State, recognised the Colombian State’s responsibility for what became known as the holocaust of the Palace of Justice and apologised for the mistakes made at the time, 30 years ago, which cost the lives of over 100 people in the heart of the nation’s capital. El Tiempo: ‘Hoy reconozco la responsabilidad del Estado colombiano y pido perdón’, 6 November 2015. On 23 April 2016 an event was held to mark the State’s admission of responsibility for the massacre of 76 victims in the events known as the Massacre of Trujillo.
 The State, led by former President Ernesto Samper, had accepted responsibility in 1995 for 34 victims, of the 342 people who died. Prensa Rural: Estado fue responsable de masacre de Trujillo: MinJusticia, 2 May 2016
 PBI Colombia: Interview with Dora Lucy Arias Giraldo, September 2015; CCAJAR Annual Report 2014, September 2015.
 Semana: El DAS sigue grabando, 21 February 2009
 CCAJAR: Annual Report 2014
 CCAJAR: Ccajar propone juicios y penas diferenciadas para crímenes de Estado y de guerrillas, 23 September 2015
 CCAJAR: Escuelas de Memoria para la No Repetición , no date
 CPDH: Bogotá Rechazamos panfleto amenazando al movimiento social y las mesas de paz, 29 September 2015
 CCAJAR: Nuevas evidencias de seguimientos al Ccajar. 23 May 2011
 El Tiempo: ONG devolvió esquema de seguridad al DAS, 8 April 2011
 PBI Colombia: Interview with Alirio Uribe, June 2012
 Alirio Uribe was a lawyer with CCAJAR for 23 years until he stood for election as candidate for the Polo Democratico Alternativo party for the Chamber of Representatives of the Colombian Congress, where he has been a Member of Congress since 2014.
 Ibid. Interview with Alirio Uribe
 PBI Colombia: Interview with Dora Lucy Arias Giraldo, September 2015