LWBC devotes a large part of its work to supporting the strategic litigation of emblematic cases by being involved in some of the most significant cases at the international level.
An emblematic case seeks to create or influence case law in the countries in question. It aims to produce a social impact through law by testing existing legal structures, but also to encourage changes in social, institutional and cultural attitudes towards respect for human rights.
By strengthening the capacity of its partners to represent victims in cases involving former dictators, as in Haiti and Guatemala, we are helping to bring about major societal changes by combating impunity for the highest perpetrators of serious human rights violations.
We present some examples of cases to which we have contributed and which aim to produce this impact.
Support for victims of armed conflict
In Colombia, LWBC has supported the work of several lawyers who defend the rights of victims in emblematic cases of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions known as "false positives": civilians executed by members of the Colombian armed forces falsely presented as guerrillas killed in action, all with the aim of receiving bonuses.
The close monitoring of judicial proceedings has also enabled LWBC to highlight, in analytical reports, the systematic nature of certain types of crimes committed during the conflict and to make recommendations for the handling of these cases in national courts.
These reports have helped to develop a dialogue with the various stakeholders, including the government, and have thus contributed to the evolution of public policies in the fight against impunity.
In April 2016, LWBC published the document "Estudio de casos a la luz del principio de complementariedad: Mecanismos de impunidad en la Justicia colombiana", which reviews the sustained work of legal representation for victims of fifteen emblematic human rights violations allegedly committed by members of the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups. This document is to date a reference for an in-depth understanding of the Colombian conflict.
The Duvalier case
Shortly after Jean-Claude Duvalier's return to Haiti on 16 January 2011, the Haitian government charged him with crimes against humanity and financial crimes. In addition, 29 people filed complaints against the former dictator and his collaborators for crimes against humanity.
However, in his order of January 27, 2012, the investigating judge of the Port-au-Prince Court of First Instance decided to retain only against Duvalier acts of embezzlement and concluded that he could not be charged with crimes against humanity in Haiti. The order was finally overturned on February 20, 2014 by the Port-au-Prince Court of Appeal, which ordered further investigation to be carried out by a judge of the Court of Appeal.
The decision of the Court of Appeal represents a historic step forward. The hearings held before the Court allowed the victims to be publicly heard by a tribunal and to personally bring Jean-Claude Duvalier to court, a first in Haiti for a top-ranking official.
LWBC supported the complainants and victims gathered within the Collectif contre l’impunité (Collective Against Impunity) during the investigation conducted by a Haitian investigating judge. In particular, LWBC contributed to the development of the strategy and legal arguments presented on appeal by the Collective Against Impunity, including the court order requiring the former dictator to testify.
Las Dos Erres
In December 1982, Guatemalan army soldiers arrived in Las Dos Erres, then forcibly removed the inhabitants from their homes and locked the men in the village school and the women accompanied by the children in the church. During the day, men who had not died as a result of the blows were shot, women and girls were raped before seeing the village houses burned down.
More than 200 people lost their lives in the massacre.
The authorities have tried to cover up the crimes committed by accusing the guerrillas of being the perpetrators of the atrocities committed. The progress of the case was complicated, in particular by the denial of information and the complete refusal by the Ministry of Defence to provide the requested documents for the purposes of the investigation.
LWBC supported several civil society organizations in their fight against impunity for serious human rights violations and in favour of the right of access to justice for the vulnerable communities they represent. The project provided support to victims' representatives (FAMDEGUA), as well as lawyers from the Bufete jurídico de derechos humanos - LWBC's main partner in Guatemala.
Several LWBC volunteers participated in the preparation of legal arguments and criminal trials of those responsible for the massacre.
This case concerns five massacres, the first of which took place in 1980 in the chapel of Río Negro and was followed by four others perpetrated in 1982 in several surrounding villages. In total, several hundred people were executed, tortured and raped, while children were abducted and forced to work for their attackers. The forced displacement of survivors and trauma have had a negative impact on the survival of the culture of this Mayan Achí indigenous community.
LWBC supported several civil society organizations in their fight against impunity for serious human rights violations and in favour of the right of access to justice for the vulnerable communities they represent. The project provided support to the representatives of the victims of Río Negro, in particular through the technical support of lawyers before the Court.
In 2011 and 2012, two Guatemalan LWBC interns who were assisting the Bufete jurídico de derechos humanos (BDH) - LWBC's main partner in Guatemala - were actively involved in this case during the written and oral proceedings before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
In particular, they drafted the memorandum of legal arguments submitted to the Court and participated in the hearings, as well as in their preparation.
Plan de Sánchez
On July 18, 1982, two grenades were thrown into the village of Plan de Sánchez in the early morning hours. In the afternoon, the residents were besieged by a commando of 60 members of the Guatemalan armed forces, including officers from the Cobán military base. More than 260 people died in the massacre.
The survivors were forced to bury the bodies. Their property was stolen and the survivors were prohibited from cultivating their land and rebuilding their homes.
Following these tragic events, terror forced the survivors to abandon the village and take refuge in the surrounding mountains. Persecution continued despite their forced displacement. Although some families were finally able to return to the village in 1987, they were forced to remain silent for several years due to persecution, threats and control by the armed forces still present in the area.
LWBC supported several civil society organizations in their fight against impunity for serious human rights violations and in favour of the right of access to justice for the vulnerable communities they represent. The project provided support to the representatives of the victims of Plan de Sánchez, the Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), civil parties in criminal proceedings involving five former paramilitaries at the national level.
A LWBC volunteer assisted the CALDH legal team in this case, including participating in the preparation of the 2012 trial.
In Honduras, security guards were implicated in the November 15, 2010, massacre of peasants marching to claim their right to land in a dispute against an agro-industrial company.
While this case was called before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a LWBC expert volunteer legal adviser helped build the strategic litigation capacity of ten lawyers and legal experts from the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH).
Filing the complaint, determining the legal strategy, preparing the evidentiary record, legal arguments and procedural aspects, organizing documents, as well as preparing tools and templates are among CBSA's concrete contributions to the progress of this file.