Diakonia - People change the world
Judith Maldonado from Colombia is a lawyer who represents people who have had their human rights violated. Despite the risks her job makes her face, she refuses to give up and fights for justice to prevail. Photo: Felipe Abondano

Judith Maldonado – a human rights lawyer who makes a difference

Judith Maldonado is a passionate change maker who is working courageously alongside others so that people living in poverty can gain power over their own lives.


Her mother's dream

Judith grew up in Boyacá in northeast of Colombia. Her mother was orphaned at the age of nine, when Judith's grandfather was murdered along with a large number of his liberal party associates. With his death, any opportunities Judith's mother had to study were snatched from her, which is why she gave everything to ensure that Judith and her two brothers would have the education she never received.

Lifelong struggle against injustice

"It's important that we are all aware that certain things are wrong, such as injustice and violations of human rights, and that there are people fostering a hope that this can be changed," says Judith.

She has always seen injustice as something important to combat. As a 15-year-old, she was active in the struggle for freedom of religion, free speech and LGBT rights, and against discrimination of all kinds.

She later founded the organization El Colectivo, now one of Diakonia's partner organizations in Colombia. El Colectivo provides legal support to victims of human rights violations in Magdalena Medio province. The work puts both Judith and the other people involved in grave danger.

Constant attacks and threats

Since 2005, El Colectivo has been the subject of 23 attacks, and as a result of her work as a lawyer, Judith is particularly exposed. When El Colectivo had written a report in which they accused the army of paying a bounty for dead guerrilla soldiers, she was threatened with a gun.

"I was attacked by two men on a moped with a pistol. The gun was pressed to my head but they didn’t shoot. Instead, they hit me in the face with it while threatening to kill me."

What they wanted was the computer in Judith's bag, and the information stored on it. And they wanted to frighten her.

Won award for her efforts

In the beginning, Judith’s parents feared for her safety, but after following the work on one of Judith's cases, they understood that Judith's work made a difference.

"On the evening of the first day of the trial, my mother said that up until that day, she had asked me to stop working as a human rights lawyer because it was too dangerous. But then she asked herself what would happen if there were no people like me to defend the innocent."

When Judith received the 2012 National Award for the Defence of Human Rights and was named Defender of the Year, her entire family were there, proud and moved by what she had achieved. Judith Maldonado shows us all that we need to stand up for human rights. That we must never accept injustice and impunity. That there is a pathway to justice, but courage, persistence, knowledge and passionate commitment are required in order to make a difference.