Statement of American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows Re: Charges Against Human Rights Lawyer Monica Roa
WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 23, 2012 – The American Bar Association believes that reported criminal defamation charges leveled against noted human rights attorney Monica Roa in Colombia represent a threat to the independence of the legal profession in that country. Reports of uninvestigated instances of violent crime committed against Roa are also distressing in light of government antagonism. The ABA asks the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to advise the association of results from any investigations into those violent crimes and to also determine whether criminal allegations against Roa are consistent with international law and the independence of the legal profession.
In 2006, Roa won a landmark case in the Colombian Constitutional Court that established a woman’s right to an abortion in limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s health. Roa later filed suit calling for the enforcement of the court’s decision, which led to criminal defamation allegations from the deputy inspector general. Retaliatory legal action against Roa based solely upon representations she made on behalf of herself and 1,200 other women encourage an environment of hostility towards those who use legal channels to vindicate their rights.
The ABA believes that a just and democratic society can only flourish with an independent and functioning legal profession. The independence of attorneys, which include the ability to advocate for their clients without harassment or malicious prosecution, is fundamental to maintaining the international norms of equal justice and the rule of law.
With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.
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A Spanish-language translation is available here.
Please click here to see the letter sent by ABA President Bellows to the president of the Republic of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos.
Please click here for a biography and photo of ABA President Bellows.