‘They can’t silence us’: the female lawyers defending Colombia’s environment

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Julia Figueroa never leaves her house without security. She travels with two bodyguards and an armoured vehicle. Her home and office are watched around the clock. She carefully monitors any devices that might contain compromising information about her clients.

As the director of the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers Collective Corporation (CCALCP), threats to her life are a daily occurrence. The all-female group of lawyers provides legal representation to small-scale farmers and indigenous communities affected by the armed conflict in Colombia. Their work includes defending displaced peoples and victims of state crime, but also defending environmental rights, including fighting mining companies that seek to extract resources, often at the expense of the local water supply and the surrounding environment.

In a country named the deadliest in the world for human rights defenders, the team faces enormous risks, including threats, false accusations of criminal activity and links to illicit armed groups.

The CCALCP has its roots in Bucaramanga’s only public university, the Industrial University of Santander, where a group of law students graduating in 2001 bonded over a desire to address the conflict and displacement facing their province, says Figueroa. Santander, in the north-east of Colombia, has a rich indigenous cultural heritage as well as untapped reserves of coal and oil.

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