Persecution of a lawyer Print
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Areas of Work - Mining
Tuesday, 20 February 2007 18:45

Public Denunciation to the community and to international bodies

Who is he? His name is Armando Perez Araujo, a Colombian lawyer who has been committed for the past twenty years of his life exclusively to the defence of the human rights of groups affected by large-scale mining ? especially Indigenous people and small-scale farmers of African descent living in the path of the mining at El Cerrejon, La Guajira, Colombia.

What kind of persecution?

He has always been pestered and harassed economically by the mining companies. Agents of the companies have intervened openly and in the most bare-faced manner with public authorities and other companies, in legal processes and cases which have had nothing whatever to do with their interests, as a way of lobbying to ensure that Armando Perez will be isolated and effectively prevented from finding enough work to make a living in the legal profession. There are innumerable cases of this and a wealth of evidence. What is more, the lawyer has frequently been the object of strategies employed against his clients, with the aim of weakening him and the causes which he has been defending.

Over approximately twenty years, he has been the victim of a dirty war. Actions have been taken which have endangered his physical safety and that of his family. Armando Perez was imprisoned for 37 days at the end of 2001. This coincided with an attack characterized by the judicial authorities themselves as an insult to human dignity: the clear and obvious attempt by the mining companies to complete the destruction of the settlement of Tabaco and to conclude the negotiations about the mine between Exxon Mobil and the consortium of Anglo American, Glencore and BHPBilliton. To put it another way: the relation between the one process and the other was evident and notorious. During this time, that is, while he was arbitrarily imprisoned, two of his sons and two of his nephews suffered ?inexplicable? criminal attacks. One of his nephews died as a result.

Why was Perez imprisoned?

This is the explanation: the lawyer was the victim of a manoeuvre conceived and shared by the two Special Attorneys Hernando Cardona Idarraga and Carmen Frias Arismendiz, with assistance and information from the companies which own the Cerrejon mine. This manoeuvre involved Cardona Idarraga, the Attorney responsible for investigating crimes related to the destruction of Tabaco on 9 August 2001, justifying the unjustifiable. In his decision he stated that those accused by Armando Perez and the victims in their denunciation (the soldiers, the corrupt judge, the directors of the multinational Intercor and others working with them) did not break the law, because the foreign company had already expropriated people?s property and could therefore destroy it ? and, what is more, could finance and carry out abuses and human rights violations. With this type of decision the companies and their allies have changed Colombian justice step by step into an agency subordinate to their own damaging interests. Cardona added that he would certify copies of documents so that the competent Attorney could carry out an investigation into a possible case of False Accusation on the part of Armando Perez, who was acting as a citizen and as the appointed representative of the families who had been assaulted and humiliated ? that is, the community of Tabaco. The proclamation that this act of ?expropriation in advance? by a foreign company was valid, and the suggestion that it should be followed up by an investigation into the possibility that Armando Perez had committed the crime of False Accusation, was an example of judicial stupidity. But it was outstripped by a wild act of even greater stupidity: the arrest of Armando Perez, ordered by Attorney Carmen Frias without any judicial process. Frias? decision was scandalous, and was criticized as such even by the hierarchy of her own judicial institution.

What is Armando Perez Araujo?s current situation?

At present the lawyer is being judicially persecuted by the corrupt Attorney who imprisoned him, evidently helped by equally corrupt Attorneys and backed by the mining companies. This latest saga began when Armando Perez stated in the local media, in response to a question from a journalist about the reasons for his arbitrary detention, that this deprivation of his liberty was the result of the mediocrity and corruption of an Attorney. After this, Sra Carmen Frias denounced Armando Perez for committing the crimes of injury and slander. The legal process began in secret, and Armando Perez could obviously not defend himself during the initial phase of these irregular proceedings. Nor has he been able to do so in an effective manner since then, because his submissions have never been heard, even though they have always been in accordance with the law and with Colombian and international jurisprudence in this matter. This leaves the bitter feeling that the national Attorney General?s office is still serving the illegal interests of the mining carried out in Colombia by the most powerful multinationals in the world. At this moment there exists a Resolution of Accusation against one who has acted in accordance with the rules governing the exercise of the legal profession. The Colombian authorities are clearly violating the Basic Principles for the Exercise of the Legal Profession approved by the Eighth Congress of the United Nations on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Havana, Cuba, between 27 August and 7 September 1990. Among these principles are:

Guarantees for the exercise of the legal profession

16 Governments will ensure that lawyers
(a) can carry out all their professional functions without intimidation, obstacles, accusations or undue interference;
(b) can travel and communicate freely with their clients within or outside their country;
(c) do not suffer from or be exposed to persecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions because of any measure that they have adopted in conformity with the obligations, rules and ethical norms that are recognized for their profession.

17 When lawyers? security is threatened because of the exercise of their functions, they will receive adequate protection from the authorities.

18 Lawyers will not be identified with their clients or with their clients? cases as a consequence of the carrying out of their functions.

20 Lawyers will enjoy civil and penal immunity for declarations that they may make in good faith, either written or in verbal submissions, or when they appear as professionals before a judicial tribunal, other tribunal or juridical or administrative body.

Freedom of expression and association

23 Lawyers, like other citizens, have the right to freedom of expression, belief, association and meeting. In particular, they have the right to participate in public debate about matters concerning legislation, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as to join or participate in local, national or international organizations and take part in their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions as a result of their lawful activities or their membership of a lawful organization. In the exercise of these rights, lawyers will always work in conformity with the law and the rules and ethical norms that are recognized for their profession.

While the communities? lawyer has been persecuted unjustly, cases against those responsible for the crimes of August 2001 and those accused in the other civil, administrative and criminal proceedings brought against agents of the companies and their assistants and those complicit in their actions have not been successful. So serious and gross has been the impunity enjoyed by the mining companies and their legal allies that an investigation that should have been pursued to its final outcome has not taken place at all. This concerns secret information presented to the national Directorate of Attorneys? Offices that suggested that Attorney Carmen Frias was responsible, among other things, for having received in a restaurant in Riohacha 800 million pesos from Oswaldo de Andreis, Chief of Public relations for Intercor, as a way of paying for the imprisonment of Armando Perez Araujo.

January 2007