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Climate of fear leads to impunity for criminals in Colombia, UN expert warns

Climate of fear leads to impunity for criminals in Colombia, UN expert warns

Despite important steps taken by the Colombian Government, a climate of fear pervades the country’s judicial system due to attacks and threats against the judiciary, victims and witnesses, a United Nations independent human rights expert warned today, calling for greater transparency, independence and more equal access to justice.

“A climate of fear and insecurity appears to reign over the judicial system because of attacks and threats against judges, prosecutors and lawyers that occur to them as a consequence of the cases they deal with or the functions that they discharge,” Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva said at the end of a 10-day visit.

“This also affects victims and witnesses who often prefer not to denounce abuses or to testify before the courts. This situation leads to impunity for the committed crimes and negatively affects the confidence of the population in the justice system,” she told a news conference in Bogotá, the capital.

Citing the long delay in the appointment of the new prosecutor-general, Ms. Albuquerque stressed that the process must be transparent and free from any discrimination, and she called for safeguards to limit the involvement of the executive and the legislative branches in appointing judges.

“Another important aspect is the lack of equal access to justice, which is reflected in overcrowding of the prisons with persons awaiting trial,” she said. “This situation is aggravated for individuals belonging to the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities – in particular those who are displaced.”

She called the absence of an independent national association regulating lawyers and protecting their professional interests “a significant deficiency,” stressing that “the independence of lawyers must be enhanced, which includes the supervision of their professional conduct.”

Ms. Albuquerque will present her findings and recommendations in a forthcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2010.