From the Shadows of Armed Conflict to a Career in Human Rights Consulting 

Tatiana grew up under the shadow of armed conflict. Since 1964, Colombia has endured a civil war between the Colombian state forces and guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). A peace agreement with FARC was signed in 2016, but negotiations with ELN and other groups remain ongoing. Tatiana’s father was almost a victim of attacks by the guerilla fighters; as a Minister of Interior and Justice, he had a bomb placed under his car, which killed two of his bodyguards. Wanting to make a difference herself, Tatiana found employment with the Ministry of Defense working on international humanitarian law, human rights, and “everything to do with the armed conflict from a legal perspective.” After transitioning to the National Senate, where she was a staffer for Senator Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon on issues relating to the work of the Committee for International Relations and Defense, Tatiana got her master’s degree from the National War College and then pursued her LL.M. at Georgetown, focusing on human rights, international humanitarian law, and armed conflict.  

Upon returning to Colombia, she worked for the Inspector General’s Office as the Inspector General Delegate for Human Rights and Ethnic Affairs, supervising the human rights performance of the Colombian state, including activity in the army, intelligence community, prisons, and ethnic communities. While in this role, Tatiana also helped the government form and execute its National Action Plan in Business and Human Rights, the first in the Western hemisphere. This project sparked Tatiana’s interest in business and human rights, and she decided to build a consulting service around the issue. “It was quite a challenge because that was 2017 and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights came out in 2011, so there wasn’t much to go on to build a consulting service,” Tatiana remarks. “I had to build everything from the documents that were available up.”  

Through LH Law & Consulting, she consults on business and human rights issues with multinational companies in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United States, among others. She advises companies on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct, and the new European Union Due Diligence Guidelines according to the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive and legal issues related to corporate human rights performance. She is also the developer of Humane Biz, a platform designed to “provide Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with human rights due diligence advisory services and consulting” based on the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Guidelines.  

Tatiana says that her career “happened thanks to Georgetown.” Georgetown, she says, gave her an education in fields uncommon in Colombia in an academically challenging environment. “For the thirteen years since I came back from Georgetown, I have taught international humanitarian law, human rights, international law, use of force, and now business and human rights, but I am one of the only practitioners here in the country that has knowledge of some of those areas,” she says.  

Even during Colombia’s peace process, which she participated in through the Inspector General’s Office, Tatiana found that “there was a lot of ignorance on what international law actually said.” She played a significant role in the analysis of international law during the negotiations, including by advising the Constitutional Court – Colombia’s highest court on issues related to its Constitution – on whether a total amnesty would be permissible for the guerilla fighters, preventing any prosecution for their activities. “I believe that Georgetown was what made me be able to come back to Colombia and really help in all areas of human rights, from the armed conflict to the performance of the state, and now to help companies uphold their human rights obligations.”  

Helping Companies Respect Human Rights in Complex Environments 

Tatiana finds that the most satisfying part of her job is the ability to help companies respect human rights. “This is an area that is a win-win for everybody. It helps the companies to adequately manage their legal and reputational risks and adverse impacts related to human rights, but in the process of complying, they help guarantee the human rights of their stakeholders, especially vulnerable populations, so it actually benefits everyone, including victims of human rights violations,” Tatiana explains. In addition, her Humane Biz project, which “empowers SMEs to create their own due diligence processes according to international standards,” will help both companies and local communities. Serving SMEs is particularly important in Colombia because they constitute, at Tatiana’s estimate, 95% of companies in the state, and “it is usually SMEs rather than big companies” where you find examples of violations like child labor, Tatiana says. 

However, Tatiana has also encountered difficulties in bringing human rights principles into reality when working with companies. “Human rights is pretty straightforward on paper. But when you start working with companies, you see that there are very different viewpoints from the company, from the communities, from environmental areas. And when the rights of one clash with another’s rights, that’s when the real challenge begins,” Tatiana explains. One example, she says, is where a local community blockaded a road to a company because they objected to the company’s consulting process with the government. The blockade became violent, resulted in the kidnapping of some of the companies’ workers, and prevented food and medicine deliveries to the population living near the company. The dispute highlighted the conflict between the right to peaceful protest and the rights of those who were kidnapped and those who needed food and medicine. While human rights may appear straightforward and logical at first glance, “putting it into practice, you’ll run into those types of situations where things aren’t clear,” she says. “Obviously we all want human rights to be upheld 100%” of the time, “but we have to look at the full picture sometimes.”   

One of the most important skills for a human rights lawyer, Tatiana says, is to “be able to keep an open mind.” In her experience, many human rights practitioners go into countries “with a fixed academic point of view” and give advice based on theory without analyzing the local situation. Instead, flexibility is important. Though difficult, since one is always “a little bit biased from your training or your background,” she advises students to keep an open mind, get the full picture by listening to different perspectives, and then make up their own minds, in order to make a correct assessment.  

The Importance of Self-Care and Finding Joy 

Dealing with human rights violations on a regular basis can be psychologically taxing, especially when one is in frequent contact with the victims. “You’re dealing with victims of massacres, of forced disappearances, of really heavy stuff,” Tatiana explains. She advises that incoming practitioners should avoid getting too emotionally involved to protect themselves from the mental toll of the work. In addition, activities outside of work are crucial. Tatiana herself finds joy in reading. “My husband is a TV and movie producer, but I never watch TV because I’m always reading. My kids are like, ‘You’re relaxing by reading Shakespeare?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ So that is one of the happiest things I do.” She also enjoys spending time with her children. 

By Sabrina Lourie (author) and Michelle Liu (editor)