The Colombia Support Network (CSN) expresses its strong support for and complete confidence in the work of the Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo ( the Colectivo ) and the attorneys who work there. We have been dismayed to hear unfounded criticisms of their work, including comments by President Juan Manuel Santos categorizing them as “corrupt”, based upon the false testimony given by a woman, Mariela Contreras, who reported her husband and sons as victims of the paramilitary attack on Mapiripan in 1997, when they were not in fact victims. It is beyond dispute that the attack on residents of Mapiripan was carried out by paramilitary forces sent by AUC leader Carlos Castano whose transit to and arrival at Mapiripan were facilitated by units of the Colombian Armed Forces. The fact that attorneys of the Colectivo brought a claim on behalf of Ms. Contreras cannot obscure or excuse the collaboration of public forces in the massacre at Mapiripan.
It is significant that the Colombian government, including officials of the public prosecutor’s office, the Fiscalia, raised no objection to the claim of Ms. Contreras when it was first made, nor brought the false testimony to light in 2008, when a son who supposedly had been a victim of the deadly assault on Mapiripan appeared alive. If the government officers whose duty it was to investigate incidents of the massacre in Mapiripan raised no questions concerning Ms. Contreras’s testimony until now, why should the attorneys of the Colectivo, who do not have the same investigative tools as the government officers, be expected to have detected the falseness of her claims?
CSN has observed the work of attorneys of the Collective for many years and have seen them act with great courage, often in the face of personal danger, to represent victims of the armed conflict in Colombia. We know these attorneys, including those who represented the victims of the Mapiripan massacre, to be honest and dedicated supporters of human rights. The work of the Collective has been fundamentally important in obtaining justice for the victims of the armed conflict. We reject as self-interested and wrong any attempt by the Colombian Government and its Armed Forces to seek to escape their own responsibility for illegal, violent acts by casting blame on the Colectivo and its attorneys.
Nor should criticism be placed at the door of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (the Court), which has rightly taken cases where victims were represented by the Colectivo and Colombian Armed Forces were involved by acts of commission or omission in advancing the actions of illegal paramilitary forces, as was true for the Mapiripan massacre. The collaboration of the Colombian Armed Forces with the paramilitary forces there has properly rendered the Colombian government subject to sanctions by the Court.
We are confident that the Colectivo and its attorneys have not conspired with persons such as Ms. Contreras to obtain benefits for their clients and fees for themselves under false pretenses. We vouch for the honesty and integrity of the attorneys of the Colectivo, which must be permitted to continue its vital work in representing victims of violence, including that involving collaboration by public forces.
John I. Laun
President, Colombia Support Network
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
Phone: (608) 257-8753
Fax: (608) 255-6621