Statement of Laurel Bellows, President, American Bar Association Re: Independence of the Legal Profession at Question in Colombia
WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 5, 2012 — The American Bar Association believes that criminal defamation charges filed against noted human rights attorney Mónica Roa by the deputy inspector general of Colombia represent a threat to the independence of the legal profession in that country. The ABA has written a letter to Colombian Prosecutor General Eduardo Montelegre Lynett, asking whether his office intends to proceed with criminal charges against Roa based on the deputy inspector general’s complaint.
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 pregnancy threatens a mother’s health. Roa later filed suit against the inspector general to enforce the court’s decision. The deputy inspector general responded by filing a criminal complaint alleging that Roa’s lawsuit was defamatory. Last month, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that Roa was correct and the inspector general had not properly implemented the court’s decision, casting further doubt upon the legitimacy of the deputy inspector general’s complaint against Roa.
Today, the ABA has renewed its concern that antagonistic government action against Roa would have a chilling effect on the legal community in Colombia. The association provided a legal analysis to the Colombian prosecutor general prepared by the ABA Center for Human Rights, which argues that the criminal prosecution of a lawyer for allegedly making defamatory statements in the course of litigation is inconsistent with international law. The ABA submitted the analysis to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Retaliatory legal action against lawyers encourages 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 lawyers, which includes 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.