International Human Rights Clinic Litigates Freedom of Expression Case Before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica

Vélez v. Colombia denounces grave human rights abuses committed by the Colombian security forces against a journalist and his family in the late 1990s.

IHR Clinic Director and Professor Arturo Carrillo litigated the Clinic's first case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica on Friday, February 24, 2012. The case, initially filed in 2005, aims to bring justice to a Colombian cameraman, Richard Vélez, who filmed human rights abuses and then was attacked and persecuted for it by the Colombian security forces. Mr. Vélez and his family were forced into exile in 1997 as a result of this persecution.

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"GW Clinic students and I have been litigating this case on behalf of Mr. Vélez and his family since the GW International Human Rights Clinic was founded in 2004," said Professor Carrillo.  "To make it to the Inter-American Court and have the clients tell their story to impartial international judges after seven years of litigation is very exciting. The impunity in this case is appalling, and this is their only chance of having justice done." Funding for litigation expenses has been provided by Microsoft as part of its support for the Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights project at GW Law School.

In the Inter-American human rights system, the public hearing before the Court is a cross between an evidentiary hearing and oral argument.  Witnesses and experts first present their testimony through examination and cross-examination.  Then, after the judges have had a chance to question the witnesses and expert directly, the parties’ attorneys present their closing arguments, as well as respond to questioning by the judges.  A final written brief is due in late March, with a final judgment expected later this year (there is no appeal).

The case of Luís Gonzalo "Richard" Vélez Restrepo and Family v. Colombia  involves an attack suffered by journalist Richard Vélez on August 29, 1996, at the hands of soldiers of the Colombian National Army, and the subsequent persecution of Mr. Vélez and his family for their pursuit of justice.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred the case to the Court on March 2, 2011 because it had found that Colombia had not substantially complied with the recommendations contained in the Commission’s confidential merits report issued in late 2011.  This report with detailed information on the case can be found at this link.

other IHR Clinic news

IHRC Urges Obama Administration to Support Colombian Human Rights Activists
In October, 2011, GW Law’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) joined eight human rights organizations in urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration to increase protections for human rights activists in Colombia. In a letter to Secretary Clinton, the groups asserted that the United States should deploy its influence to help prevent human rights violations in that country. The letter focused on the persecution of human rights defenders in general, and human rights activist Principe Gabriel González in particular, who was convicted in 2010 of rebellion based on trumped up charges, and in flagrant violation of basic due process guarantees. González’s case is paradigmatic of the persecution faced by human rights defenders in Colombia.

Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Distinguished Speaker Series
Established in fall 2011, GW Law's Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Distinguished Speaker Series is presented through the generous support of Microsoft. The series, organized and coordinated by Professors Dawn Nunziato and Arturo Carrillo, presents a range of timely topics addressing global internet free speech and human rights issues.

Spotlight Item: Professor Carrillo with clients Richard Vélez and Sara Román

Professor Carrillo with clients Richard Vélez and Sara Román

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