Inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy and her decades long work on strategic litigation and the use of legal tools for the protection of vulnerable and marginalized communities, both as a litigation lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, this summary highlights the efforts and achievements of the Strategic Litigation Network on Migration. Supported by ABA ROLI, this network works to protect the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population in Colombia through coordinated high-impact legal actions before the Constitutional Court and the Inter-American Human Rights System.
There it was, right in front of us, all the laws that needed to be changed or eliminated, through legislative amendment preferably, if not, through litigation. It was our road map, a pearl beyond price, that list of federal statutes differentiating on the basis of gender.
To effectively respond to the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis in Colombia, ABA ROLI is implementing the USAID-funded program Conectando Caminos por los Derechos (CCD), in partnership with Freedom House, Pact International, and Internews. As part of the Human Rights Support Mechanism, ABA ROLI leads crucial efforts to both prevent and respond to human rights violations, including making significant progress in increasing access to quality justice services for migrants and refugees through strategic litigation initiatives, both at the national and international levels. One of these initiatives was implemented through the creation of the Strategic Litigation Network on Migration (Red de Litigio Estratégico en Migración, or Red-LEM, its acronym in Spanish), a collective platform to promote coordinated high impact legal actions between civil society organizations, think tanks, and legal clinics.
With the common goal of fostering coordinated strategic litigation efforts to deliver justice in the context of migration in Colombia, the network has expanded up to 14 organizations with international and local mandates. The Red-LEM is formed by renowned and respected legal experts including the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, the National Federation of Ombudsman of Colombia (or Federación Nacional de Personerías), DeJusticia, Opción Legal; key migration stakeholders including the Danish Refugee Council, Jesuit Refugee Service, Norwegian Refugee Council, Refugees United (or Refugiados Unidos); gender diversity experts including Caribe Afirmativo, Colombia Diversa; and legal clinics throughout the country such as the Universidad de Los Andes, Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga, and Universidad ICESI.
Strategic litigation, sometimes also called impact litigation, differs from conventional litigation in its goal of moving forward broader changes in society by strategically selecting and bringing a case to a courtroom.
Building on the organization’s expertise in strategic litigation, ABA ROLI supports the network’s Technical Secretariat through providing technical advice and resources conducive to high-level strategic legal actions that address human rights violations in the context of migration. The Red-LEM has prioritized three main areas that require an urgent response through high impact legal actions, namely: (i) citizenship annulment cases; (ii) cases of migrant victims of armed conflict and organized crime; and (iii) cases of refugee or asylum-seeking procedures.
In less than a year, the Red-LEM has already made unprecedented and historic achievements in preventing and responding to human rights violations while simultaneously promoting access to quality justice services for the migrant and refugee population. Among these achievements, a public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was held in June 2022 to address a critical human rights issue regarding the right to nationality of stateless persons in Colombia. This was in response to the National Civil Registry’s arbitrary mass cancellation of 42,000 Registers of Nationality and IDs for Colombo-Venezuelan people. Before the IACHR, the Red-LEM had the opportunity to explain the multiple barriers the Colombo-Venezuelan community faces in Colombia—which include living with limited access to their fundamental rights, particularly those concerning their right to a nationality, and their right to due process, and the differentiated impacts of the Registry within the most vulnerable communities.
Moreover, in August 2022 the Red-LEM succeeded in filing an amicus brief before the Colombian Constitutional Court to address the systematic delays faced by Venezuelans in the procedures for recognition of their refugee status. Throughout six national engagements, the network’s legal teams reported progress, shared experiences, and discussed good practices for high-level actions to respond to human rights violations in the context of migration.
Red-LEM’s presentation about Venezuelan migrant’s right to nationality during the virtual hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Washington D.C. – Bogota D.C., June 2022.
The most recent achievement for the network happened in October 2022. After the IACHR released a call for participation in public hearings in the context of its 185th Period of Sessions, the Red-LEM presented their application to the “Border policies and protecting the human rights of individuals in human mobility contexts” hearing. It sought to gather information on the challenges for protecting the human rights of individuals in human mobility contexts in transit or border areas. For context, human mobility refers to all aspects of the movement of people, including involuntary, voluntary and planned and consented relocation, migration, or displacement. Of the many applications, Red-LEM’s solicitation was accepted, and it was the only one chosen to address the challenges of migration in the border areas of Colombia. During the IACHR public hearing, the Red-LEM exposed the Colombian State’s violations of the non-refoulment principle and the right to seek and receive asylum in transit or international areas.
Furthermore, the Red-LEM requested that the IACHR bear in mind their explanation for the development of the regional report. The network suggested that the IACHR develop a guideline for Latin American and Caribbean States with recommendations regarding the guarantee of the non-refoulment principle, the right to seek and receive asylum, and the guarantee of due process. In addition, the network expressed that the Temporary Protection Statute—granted by the Colombian government to Venezuelan migrants—is a quality initiative but requires adjustments in order to not exclude persons in need of international protection and not to deter individuals from accessing such rights.
Red-LEM’s exposition regarding the Colombian State’s violation of due process in transit and international areas during the virtual hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the 185th Period of Sessions. Washington D.C. – Bogota D.C., October 2022.
During the hearing, the Vice President of the IACHR, Stuardo Ralon, thanked the Red-LEM’s organizations for their commitment to denouncing the human rights violations migrant populations face in the Americas. He emphasized the IACHR’s ongoing engagement to provide a visible platform for condemning such violations on migrant populations. In addition, the IACHR acknowledged that the intersections of gender, age, socioeconomic status, and race deepen the vulnerability of migrants and often result in differentiated violence and violations, especially regarding the human rights violation of trafficking in persons.
Strategic litigation cases are as much concerned with the effects that they will have on larger populations and governments as they are with the end result of the cases themselves.
Additionally, to commemorate the network’s first year of activities, a national meeting entitled “Lessons learned, challenges and opportunities in the migration strategic litigation network Red-LEM in Colombia” was held in Bogotá on December 6, 2022. Representatives of the participating organizations attended the session, during which two panels were held to discuss (1) the importance of network collaboration in the defense of human rights in the context of migration in Colombia, and (2) the successful experiences in strategic litigation, particularly regarding migration. During the session, the panelists reflected on the significance of the Red-LEM organizations’ coming together and their actions in front of national and international institutions. Moreover, the panels addressed possible opportunities for growth during the initiative’s second year, including ideas to consolidate the network’s efforts to further deliver high-impact legal actions that respond to human rights violations in the context of migration.
Recording of Red-LEM’s first national meeting “Lessons learned, challenges and opportunities in the migration strategic litigation network Red-LEM in Colombia”, Bogota D.C., December 2022.
Altogether, the unprecedented achievements before the Inter-American System of Human Rights and the active litigation before the Constitutional Court through the filing of amicus briefs demonstrate the added value of incorporating networking opportunities to promote coordinated high-level legal actions between civil society organizations, think tanks, and legal clinics. Thus, this initiative highlights the significance of ABA ROLI’s efforts to support strategic litigation activities to respond to human rights violations, with a special focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized victims, such as Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The Red-LEM’s ongoing initiatives and legal actions prove that impact litigation pays off and will continue to serve as a powerful mechanism to deliver justice.
Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.