Julia Figueroa by no means leaves her home with out safety. She travels with two bodyguards and an armoured automobile. Her dwelling and workplace are watched across the clock. She rigorously displays any units that may comprise compromising details about her shoppers.
Because the director of the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers Collective Corporation (CCALCP) and one among its founders, threats to her life are a each day incidence. The all-female group of legal professionals gives authorized illustration to small-scale farmers and indigenous communities affected by the armed battle in Colombia. Their work contains defending displaced peoples and victims of state crime, but additionally defending environmental rights, together with combating mining corporations that search to extract sources, typically on the expense of the native water provide and the encompassing surroundings.
In a rustic named the deadliest in the world for human rights defenders, the crew faces huge dangers, together with threats, false accusations of prison exercise and hyperlinks to illicit armed teams.
The CCALCP has its roots in Bucaramanga’s solely public college, the Industrial College of Santander, the place a bunch of regulation college students graduating in 2001 bonded over a need to deal with the battle and displacement going through their province, says Figueroa. Santander, within the north-east of Colombia, has a wealthy indigenous cultural heritage in addition to untapped reserves of coal and oil.
A collective of human rights legal professionals was a novelty within the area on the time, and the group struggled to entry funding and a spotlight. The Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was on the peak of its energy and paramilitary forces had been rampant. The group initially comprised women and men however, as time glided by, the male members regularly fell away.
“The world exterior started to note one thing that we didn’t have the time or the means to see,” says Figueroa. “When you could have your life in danger and your loved ones, you don’t begin doing these differentiated analyses – you simply prioritise your life.”
Extra girls joined, together with Marisol Figueroa, Julia’s sister, who left her company job in 2011 to hitch the collective. Because the authorities pulled her state-sponsored safety for unknown causes, she says she takes care to spend as a lot time as she will be able to together with her household, since “you don’t know once you would possibly go away this world”.
Though she left a comparatively tranquil life, Marisol says the all-female surroundings within the workplace was a welcome change from her earlier workplaces, the place machismo and sexual harassment had been commonplace. “I feel that every one among us involves this world to contribute a grain of sand,” she says. “And I feel you are able to do it in some ways. A kind of methods for me was to get to know the world of human rights.”
Because the crew expanded to the encompassing Magdalena Medio area, they efficiently defended displaced households from landowners, protected indigenous teams from oil corporations and valuable ecosystems from mining.
A notable case on the group’s information is that of the Santurbán páramo. The páramo – a frosty, high-altitude wetland ecosystem – is massively biodiverse and gives water to almost 2 million individuals however is threatened by mining multinationals eyeing its mineral sources.
Since 1994, the Canadian mining firm Eco Oro Minerals has sought to take advantage of the realm’s gold and silver sources, and was granted a concession within the páramo. However in 2016, the CCALCP obtained a ruling within the nation’s highest court docket declaring the licence unconstitutional.
However whereas Colombia’s páramos, essential carbon sinks, have been given particular constitutional safety, they continue to be susceptible. Quickly after the win in opposition to Eco Oro, the company sued Colombia in a dispute that’s nonetheless ongoing, and the páramo stays beneath risk.
One other high-profile case concerned fracking within the municipality of San Martín within the Magdalena Medio area. When Colombia introduced its first fracking undertaking within the space in 2015 there was a substantial backlash. The CCALCP helped to file the primary “in style motion” – a authorized mechanism to guard collective pursuits – in a fracking case, and the fracking was suspended in 2018.
“We didn’t need to lose that regional identification, we didn’t need to go away the realm after we wished to broaden,” says Julia. “As a result of actually, one of many strengths that an organisation like ours has is understanding how it’s right here – not having to be monitored from Bogotá.”
At present, the crew is made up of 11 girls, together with 4 legal professionals. “They’re a bunch that’s extremely revered right here in our province,” says Hernán Morantes, a lawyer with the Committee for the Protection of Water and the Santurbán Páramo, who labored with the collective in the course of the 2016 authorized dispute. “And so they even have a world imaginative and prescient, they’ve achieved nationwide recognition.”
The crew’s work submitting reviews to the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP), a transitional justice system investigating struggle crimes in Colombia’s armed battle, has earned them threats and accusations of being allied with terrorists or inventing victims. Julia says the truth that the present administration has been a critic of the peace accords has made issues worse. Typically, she says, individuals will report the collective to the police to set off an investigation and additional intimidate them – significantly in environmental instances.
“With the environmental difficulty, to defend water is to go in opposition to million-dollar contracts which have been signed between the state and corporations,” says Julia. The federal government typically paints environmental defenders as limitations to financial progress, she provides.
The job, she says, comes at the price of privateness, freedom and private relationships. She says many ladies take prolonged day off to get well after which come again. The group gives psychological assist, and time and house for members to cope with the stress.
“They haven’t been in a position to silence us. They’ve tried to prosecute us, they’ve attacked us, they’ve scared us,” she says. “We’re all scared once they threaten us. We’re fearful of many issues, however I feel the collective is so hopeful that if Julia can pull by way of, if those earlier than me pulled by way of, then we’ll maintain going.”
Names and faces of members of the collective should not publicised apart from the senior leaders. Their workplace in downtown Bucaramanga is nondescript. There is no such thing as a signage saying their presence within the constructing, solely safety cameras exterior, with many extra inside. Everybody who enters should flip their telephone off for safety causes.
The group has seen huge political adjustments within the nation because it began. Originally, its legal professionals travelled to “essentially the most distant, most impenetrable territories” to doc human rights abuses that in any other case would by no means have come to gentle. Now, Julia says, many communities are higher geared up to defend themselves.
However there are completely different challenges – the 2016 peace deal created an influence vacuum for paramilitaries, drug traffickers and different armed teams to fill, as the present conservative authorities drags its ft on implementing the settlement. Competitors for land has elevated deforestation and the pandemic has introduced elevated poverty.
However the crew says it attracts hope from the truth that a bunch of girls from a small metropolis can attain the excessive courts and alter coverage, and in addition from the capability for pleasure, forgiveness and persistence within the communities they work with.
“We at all times must hope. We’re at all times lucky to be optimistic and purposeful and say ‘Hey, issues are going to vary’,” says Marisol. “And now we have to struggle to be a part of that change. To contribute our grain of sand.”