Every year, for the past 10 years, January 24 has been dedicated to lawyers threatened, arrested, imprisoned, prosecuted or even killed for having legitimately exercised their profession, anywhere in the world.
WHY SUCH A DAY?
Since 2009, Lawyers in Danger Day has been held every 24 January in cities, countries and continents around the world. The purpose of this international day is to draw the attention of civil society and public authorities to the situation of lawyers in a particular country, in order to raise awareness of the threats they face in the exercise of their profession.
HOW MANY LAWYERS ARE THREATENED IN THE WORLD?
There is no real official figure for the number of critically endangered lawyers around the world today. Yet almost every day lawyers are murdered, threatened, arrested, tortured, prosecuted – or simply disappeared – just for doing their jobs. Among the most dangerous countries for lawyers today we can count on China, Iran, Honduras, the Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, Mexico.
WHAT ARE THE MOST THREATENED CATEGORIES OF LAWYERS?
The lawyers most at risk are those who defend cases that may be considered in a given country to be sensitive. The “sensitive” files vary from one country to another but we nevertheless observe constants such as the defense of journalists and bloggers, expropriation files, the defense of human rights defenders, opponents. politicians, trade unionists or the defense of victims of torture by state authorities. After journalists, the legal profession is often seen as the most threatened profession. Obviously lawyers who combine activist and human rights defense activities with the legal profession are doubly at risk.
WHAT TYPES OF THREATS ARE USED AGAINST LAWYERS?
First, there are the direct physical retaliatory measures: murder, kidnappings, imprisonment. Honduras and Mexico unquestionably lead the country in which lawyers are murdered the most. But we must not forget Peru, Panama, the Philippines or even Pakistan. In the city of Quetta in Pakistan, on August 8, 2016, a bomb destroyed the bar, killing 70 lawyers gathered in front of the city hospital after the assassination of their President of the Bar a few hours earlier. In total, some 150 of the 280 lawyers in Balochistan were killed or wounded on August 8 in Quetta. The Bar of Balochistan was also awarded a special mention from the 2017 jury of the Ludovic Trarieux Prize for his work and his suffering in the service of human rights. Violence against lawyers can go as far as psychiatric hospitalization. There are also more subtle retaliatory measures such as the use of disciplinary procedures with the continuing threat of deregistration. This is the experience of our Chinese colleagues whose license to exercise is questioned every year. Many Chinese human rights lawyers when not in jail are simply denied the right to practice. The ultimate weapon against an inconvenient lawyer is to make him an ordinary prisoner. Prosecutions for tax evasion, corruption, extortion are often used as such because they lead to heavy convictions. Lawyers who work on sensitive cases are also sometimes subject to such pressure from the authorities that they lose all profitable clients and come under intense economic pressure. There are also all the insidious hindrances to the practice of the lawyer when one prevents interviews, communication, visits to the client, when one listens to search or search law firms. We must also not forget the argument of the fight against terrorism, which affects all countries, even those whose rights of defense seemed to be deeply rooted.
WHAT TEXTS TO PROTECT THEM?
There are many national and international legal instruments recalling the essential role of lawyers, particularly through the right to a fair trial. But it was not until the adoption of the Basic Principles on the Role of the Bar at the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders which was held in Havana on August 27. on September 7, 1990, that the lawyer appears as an “essential agent in the administration of justice”. These principles are intended to guide the member states so that lawyers can fulfill their mission in complete independence. These Basic Principles relating to the role of the bar are still today the only international text which protects the founding principles of the profession, foremost among which is independence, confidentiality, freedom of expression and the vital distinction between lawyer and his client or his case. Unfortunately, these do not yet, or not always, constitute real protection for a large number of lawyers around the world. There is, moreover, a special procedure at the United Nations intended to protect lawyers. This is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
HOW TO PROTECT LAWYERS?
The first bulwark of protection for lawyers is to be able to count on the support of an independent bar. The independence of the Bar is a pillar of the protection of the rule of law and human rights. Identifying threatened lawyers around the world, identifying them and carefully monitoring the evolution of their situation and the threats facing them is a necessary vigilance that we must all exercise. This helps attract international attention when it is needed. It is fundamental that bars and professional associations of lawyers around the world can work together to share information and join forces to advocate for colleagues who need it most. It is for this reason that the Bar of Paris (France), the National Council of Bars (France), the Consejo General de la Abogacía Espanola (Spain), and the Consiglio Nazionale Forense (Italy) have decided to be a founding member. of the International Observatory of Endangered Lawyers in order to keep a permanent watch on the situation of lawyers threatened in the world because of the legitimate exercise of their profession and to provide assistance to lawyers whose life, liberty or practice professional are threatened.