‘Very afraid’: Colombian human rights lawyer loses security after winning prize

Adil Meléndez Márquez received call from bodyguards 20 minutes after Sir Henry Brooke award from Alliance for Lawyers at Risk

“I’m very afraid,” says Colombian lawyer Adil Meléndez Márquez, the day after being presented with an award in London honouring human rights defenders.

Meléndez is no stranger to death threats, because of his work on cases related to Colombia’s decades-long civil war, environmental justice and corruption, but things have just got a lot scarier. With bitter irony, 20 minutes after receiving the Sir Henry Brooke award from the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, his bodyguards called him to say that they had been stood down from, leaving him without protection.

In an interview with the Guardian in London, Meléndez said he is a rarity in Colombia, a human rights lawyer who hails from among those he represents. He is Afro Colombian and works predominately on cases for Afro Colombians and Indigenous communities, often in areas under the control of paramilitaries rather than the government. He was kidnapped when he was 12 so has first-hand experience of the violence which blights the country and has received threats since becoming involved with Movice (movement of victims of state crimes) in 2006.

After receiving threats Meléndez took a case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – an organ of the Organization of American States – which, in 2009, ordered Colombia to provide him with protection. For the first eight years this amounted to three personal bodyguards and a bulletproof car, then the bulletproof car was removed and later one of the bodyguards, leaving him with two until last week, he says.

Meléndez describes his work as taking on “politicians, business interests, cattle ranchers, the armed forces and paramilitary groups”.


‘Very afraid’: Colombian human rights lawyer loses security after winning prize