In charge of the Hilda Lorena Leal Castaño Case: David Bertet.
Translation: Jorge B.
She is a Colombian lawyer, a profession that she can no longer exercise as of November 20, 2013 since she was struck off the profession’s roll following a judicial process based on the probable violation of her judicial rights and the use of false witnesses against her.
Since her university years, Lorena Leal Castaño has been a defender of human rights. In 2009, at the time she was a trial attorney, she practiced technical defense law of several members of the Public Force (among others), pro-bono in several occasions.
Lorena Leal Castaño would take on cases before the Unit of Human Rights of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, including judicial office 73 among others, when around March 2009, in the penal process number 4925 —Public Prosecutor’s HR-IHLU (Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) Office 73— a paramilitary named John Jairo Pabón Vega declared that in December 2008 he had been visited in jail by a woman named Lorena, whom he described as “cute,” “white,” “short,” “large bosom” and “with braces.” In September 2009, within that same process, Leal Castaño was called as a party to a line-up recognition procedure. Eight days later, the public prosecutor of the case, Dr. Lindón José Piracón, without notifying Leal Castaño, widened the investigation. In the extension of the statement by John Jairo Pabón Vega, the public prosecutor identified Lorena Leal Castaño as the person who had visited him in jail in December 2008.
In relation to the supposed mentioned facts, a disciplinary process against Lorena Leal Castaño and the pertinent disciplinary procedure were begun before the Sectional Council of the Judiciary headed by Martha Cecilia Camacho. During the procedure, Leal Castaño asked to cross-examine the witness incriminating her since he had declared under oath that the woman whom he accused was his lawyer. This was not true because from the same procedure it was clear that his lawyer was Gloria Galvis de Rondón from the Pdefender’s office. In addition Mrs. Leal Castaño had not entered the jail to visit John Jairo Pabón Vega. Before the Attorney General’s Office, the previously mentioned lawyer and defender of John Jairo Pabón Vega made a disciplinarily complaint against prosecutor Lindón Jose Piracón Puerto, indicating that the administrative work of her client John Jairo Pabón Vega, had been manipulated. Nowadays, John Jairo Pabón Vega has become a witness for the HR-IHLU office 73, under Lindón Jose Piracón
In 2011, within process number 4870, Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar, another doubtful witness, appeared before the HR-IHLU Public Prosecutor 73, Dr. Lindón José Piracón Puerto and testified against Lorena Leal Castaño. Just as in the case of the previous witness, Mrs. Leal Castaño was pointed out as the lawyer for the witness, which does not either correspond to the reality. Gutiérrez Salazar decided against accepting an early ruling, making serious complaints against the aforementioned official, stating that he had accepted the offer under pressure from Dr. Piracón Puerto. In relation to these facts, Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar filed a complaint against Piracón Puerto before the Attorney General’s Office, in which a penal process was begun against the latter under file number 540016001131200905728.
In April 2011, Gutiérrez Salazar again decided to accept an early ruling sentence for several homicides. It was then when negotiations began with Prosecutor 73 Piracón Puerto. He withdrew the complaint he had made against him in 2009, saying that the complaint had been made under alleged pressures from Mrs. Leal Castaño via Skype, while he was in jail. This new statement was enough for the criminal investigation against Public Prosecutor Lindón Piracón, to be closed. In turn, Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar became a witness for the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in particular for HR-IHLU office 73. Later on, that prosecutor’s office tried to benefit its witness with ploys or “indiscretions” that can be seen in trusteeship decisions.
As a result of these statements, what Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar declared was connected to the disciplinary process opened against Mrs. Leal Castaño in which the false statements by Pabón Vega had already been confirmed. This process was carried out under number 2009-0753.
In September 2011, Lorena Leal Castaño was informed that there was a high risk of complications associated with her pregnancy. In turn she informed the Council of the Judiciary of this new situation and felt obliged to ask judge Martha Cecilia Camacho through a petition to delegate her authority to receive evidence to another judge, to allow her to give a spontaneous version of her testimony in the city of Bogota, her place of residence. This took place on March 12, 2012.
In that occasion Mrs. Leal Castaño presented a number of documentary evidence to back up her defence. In addition she made other expert requests to have them resolved. To date, in the proceeding of her disciplinary process, the judiciary has never ruled on the admission or the inadmissibility of the supposed incriminatory tests against her, in spite of the requests made by the defence to that end.
Although her presence in the city of Cúcuta was difficult due to her advanced state of pregnancy, Lorena Leal Castaño assisted to several hearings during April 2012. During the proceeding, she had a trusted lawyer that represented her when it was impossible for her to attend some hearings. In spite of the above, her “absences” were mentioned in the disciplinary file. On May 10, 2012, she was notified by telephone of a hearing for that same month. From the time she received the call, she informed the Judiciary that her daughter was born on May 4, and that she was therefore on maternity leave after a C-section. From this date on, proceeding notifications stopped, both to her lawyer of trust and to her, thus compromising her right to a defence. In a fraudulent way, it was stated in the hearings that neither she nor her lawyer of trust had wanted to appear, and that their absences had not been justified, contrary to reality. The right to the protection of the pregnant and nursing women on the part of the State was also weakened.
Taking advantage of that situation, the reporting judge Martha Cecilia Camacho, assigned a public defender to Mrs. Leal Castaño, who was given a five-day period to study a file of more than a thousand pages and several CDs. In less than two months the office of the reporting judge finished the disciplinary proceeding, without notifying Mrs. Leal Castaño of the steps taken and without either ruling on the evidentiary requests raised on March 12, 2012. The appointed public defender limited himself to record his presence, and to indicate that he did not know how to defend his client. By removing her contractual defender without her consent, the judicial guarantees of Mrs. Leal Castaño were violated.
In our opinion, there are at least 5 different violations that were committed in this matter:
- Violation of DUE PROCESS and JUDICIAL GUARANTEES;
- Violation of PERSONAL DIGNITY;
- Violation of the right to the PROTECTION TO MATERNITY;
- Violation of the right TO LIVE IN DECENT CONDITIONS;
- Violation of the RIGHTS OF THE CHILD.
Rights enshrined in the constitutional articles 1, 13, 16, 25, 29, 43, 44, 85 and 86 in agreement with the following international instruments: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights articles 14 and 26; American,,,articles 8 and 25; Universal…articles 1 and 6;…” Also change “…CAP. II art. 4, f.) g.), art. 5, art. 9” to “Chapter II, articles 4f., 4g., 5 and 9.
The judicial authorities who knew about the disciplinary process against Mrs. Leal Castaño, far from fulfilling the obligation to respect and protect her fundamental procedural and human rights of aggrieved party, took advantage of a moment of incapacitation (her pregnancy status and the period of maternity leave), putting a mother in a helplessness state before the justice administration: the hearings were accelerated, without notifying her; her private defender was arbitrarily and unjustifiably replaced; finally, a supposed voluntary non-appearance without justification was recorded, when the same judicial authorities had already been notified that Mrs. Leal Castaño was on maternity leave.
Lorena Leal Castaño found out what had happened when she received notification of the sentence on September 21, 2012. Only then was she again notified of what was happening within her disciplinary process. An appeal was filed. Nevertheless, the serious violation of her human rights was not considered as relevant to justify her appeal, reason why the decision was upheld on November 20, 2013, and Lorena Leal Castaño was struck off from the roll and her professional permit was cancelled.
Based on these facts a complaint was filed against Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar, John Jairo Pabón Vega and the Public Prosecutor of Human Rights Jose Lindón Piracón Puerto, without any tangible results to date.
This is why, CART decided to take part in the case of Lorena Leal Castaño. We have addressed ourselves to the Attorney General’s Office to express our concern at the lack of action on the part of the investigating authorities, and to request that the pertinent investigations finally proceed, mentioning in our brief that Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez Salazar was analyzed psychologically in 2010 and 2011 and diagnosed as having a severe mental disorder, a circumstance that has not been considered by the Office of the Pprosecutor, as they continue to give credibility to his statements. This information is of greater importance, since the evidentiary support of the accusations against Lorena Leal Castaño has been reduced to the testimony from those who were witnesses for the prosecution office 73.
Colombian legislation under Bill 1123, 2007, does not provide the possibility of review action for cases such as that of Mrs. Leal Castaño, which results in a final decision based on false witnesses as well as on violations of the judicial guarantees of the victim.
Such a drastic and unjustified disciplinary sanction has left Lorena Leal Castaño devoid of the only means of subsistence for her family made up of her youngest daughter and granddaughter.
- News on May 13, 2018: New acts of persecution and a criminalization attempt against the Defender of Human Rights Hilda Lorena Leal Castaño (En Vero Spanish, trans.)