Colombian lawyer Patricia Guerrero to receive the 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award

The American Bar Association will honor Colombian lawyer Patricia Guerrero with its 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award in recognition of her long record of defending victims of sexual violence and individuals who are displaced by the Colombian armed conflict. The award will be presented to Guerrero at the International Distinguished Guests Dinner on Aug.10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rockefeller Plaza Rainbow Room during the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City.

Guerrero, a feminist activist and former judge, is the founder and director of the League of Displaced Women (Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas), an independent nonprofit organization that advocates for protections for women who have been forced to flee their homes because of the country’s armed conflict.

Guerrero has fought for access to justice and the rights of displaced women and their families through aggressive political and legal advocacy, ensuring not only legal representation for victims, but also fighting for laws that protect and help them rebuild their lives. Despite often- grave opposition from paramilitary forces and the Colombian state, Guerrero is committed to aiding women impacted by the decades-long conflict between guerrilla rebels and narco-traffickers.

“We honor Patricia Guerrero’s steadfast commitment to advocate for the rights of internally displaced women and children and to ensure justice for gender-based violence committed during Colombia’s civil war,” said ABA President Linda Klein. “Her achievements are particularly extraordinary given the tremendous obstacles, intimidation and threats that she and the League of Displaced Women have faced.”

The ABA International Human Rights Award was established to honor and give public recognition to an individual or an entity that has made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights outside of the United States. The recipient is selected jointly by the ABA’s Center for Human Rights, the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the Section of International Law, Section of Litigation and the Rule of Law Initiative.

“The past year has seen lawyers targeted for their work in China, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Turkey and many other countries around the world.  With this award we celebrate the critical role that lawyers play in advancing human rights and the rule of law and urge all states to respect the independence of the legal profession,” Klein said.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, more than 7 million Colombians have been displaced, sometimes forcefully, because of armed conflicts in the country.

In 2003, Guerrero secured a grant from USAID to develop a city that would become home to more than 98 displaced women and their families. The development, coined “The City of Women,” protects and empowers women displaced from the conflict by providing income generation and food security projects, a plan for social reintegration, as well as organizing strategic community protection addressing the presence of paramilitary forces near the area. In 2008, Guerrero’s work with the LMD and City of Women was recognized by the Global Fund for Women’s annual gala honoring notable women leaders.

As a human rights advocate, Guerrero has become a renowned specialist on the role of women and the special vulnerabilities they face in armed conflict. She has served as the executive secretariat of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, providing special reports on women in armed conflict and on women’s rights within the frame of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organization of American States. She also actively participated in the approval and implementation of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1325 in Colombia, reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction, stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. 

Guerrero began her work as a criminal judge, and later as an independent lawyer working on cases involving violence against women, women in jail and female political prisoners. In 1984 she became the first lawyer in Colombia to denounce marital rape in court; and as an activist, she fought to decriminalize abortion, especially in the cases of pregnancy through rape.
Throughout her legal career, Guerrero has brought 170 cases of forced displacement before Colombia’s attorney general for investigation; documented more than 170 cases of forced displacement and crimes related to forced displacement; and published multiple studies on the facts, roots and consequences of these grave human rights abuses.