Human rights news from the IBA - February/March 2016

Human Rights at Sea and IBA eyeWitness

Human Rights at Sea has announced the launch of an initiative to use the IBA’s eyeWitness to Atrocities app to record human rights abuses occurring at sea. Launched by the IBA in 2015, the app’s unique capabilities will enable those working in the maritime environment to use Android smartphones and tablets to document crimes in the knowledge that the images captured will be admissible as evidence in a court of law.

CEO of HRAS, David Hammond, says, ‘This is another maritime first, using the power of technology to assist in evidential gathering of potential or actual human rights abuse incidents which ordinarily would occur out of sight and out of mind at sea. Up to this point, such evidence has often been hidden from the investigatory efforts of our charity that wishes to identify and address such abuses that would otherwise go unreported within the maritime environment. The ability of those individuals or entities who wish to cover up or ignore abuse has been dealt a significant blow.’

The eyeWitness to Atrocities app is a unique tool in the fight against human rights atrocities and abuses. It is an easy-to-use camera app that collects and embeds GPS coordinates, date and time, device sensor data and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi addresses in the images taken by the user. The collection of this metadata provides verification and context and is encrypted and securely stored within the app together with the images. The user may then upload the footage directly to a secure storage facility hosted by LexisNexis and maintained solely by the eyeWitness organisation. In doing so, a chain of custody record verifies that the footage has not been edited or digitally manipulated. Thus, the images attain a level of authentication that allows for their use in investigations or trials.

To find out more about the eyeWityness project, see


In Memoriam

Leslie Wolfson

It was Leslie Wolfson’s foray behind the iron curtain at the height of the Cold War that led to him joining the IBA. In Moscow to find a lawyer for a Jewish prisoner of conscience, he found himself appointed by his Russian hosts as their lawyer in Scotland. When he hosted them in Edinburgh, he met Jim Sutherland, then IBA President – who had ‘come to meet the Russian lawyers’ – and, in 1988, they organised the first IBA seminar in what was then still the USSR.

Writing in 2007, Wolfson recalled that ‘I chaired a session debating “the right to leave one’s country”, a Soviet hot potato at that time when emigration was considered treasonable.’ This was an early indication that Wolfson had no qualms about ensuring the IBA tackled difficult issues. It was also in Moscow that he met the person he described as his ‘closest IBA friend’, Khadim Lami of Iraq. Those who knew Wolfson credit him with helping Lami get out of Iraq and start a new life in London. The two travelled the world together with the IBA, particularly the Middle East: Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, Bahrain, Morocco, and in Casablanca they lunched at the table used by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.

Following the seminar in Moscow, Wolfson was appointed Chair of the IBA Human Rights Committee. The expansion of this role led to the establishment of a Section for Human Rights in the IBA (following a unanimous resolution in Melbourne in 1994) and ultimately the founding of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute. He became Chair of Twinning, the brainchild of the President of the IBA William Reece Smith Jr, with a brief to link the bars in the developing and developed world. This experience led him to another important initiative called The Global Challenge, which sought innovative ways of facilitating poverty reduction in the world’s fifty least developed countries. It continues today as The Lex:lead Group – lawyers for economic advancement and development. Leslie Wolfson is described by those who knew him as ‘an extraordinary man, who will be much missed’. The IBA extends its deep condolences to his family.



Judicial independence and rule of law in Hungary still under threat, according to new IBAHRI report

In a report released on 10 December in Hungary, the IBAHRI expresses concern that, following the significant legislative reform implemented during Hungary’s incumbent government’s first term in office, rule of law guarantees remain weak.

In recent years there have been signs of a shrinking civic space in Hungary. The reduced direct access to the Constitutional Court by which citizens have their constitutional rights adjudicated was a grave development, as has been the stripping away of the capabilities of the Constitutional Court to fulfil its fundamental role as the primary check on the powers of the parliamentary majority.

The 2015 IBAHRI report, entitled Still under threat: The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Hungary, assesses the implementation of 23 recommendations set out in the 2012 IBAHRI report on Hungary, which examined the impact of regressive legislative steps on judicial independence and democratic checks and balances.

Read more about the report at




The IBAHRI urges China to uphold lawyers’ rights and implement UN recommendations to eradicate torture

As part of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (UNCAT), China is required to adhere by international standards and submit periodic reviews to the UN Committee Against Torture. On 9 December 2015, the Committee published its latest observations on China and presented subsequent recommendations. These focused on the deteriorating situation facing legal professionals in China. The Committee recommended that China, amongst other things, stop sanctioning lawyers for taking actions in accordance with recognised duties and investigate all the human rights violations perpetrated against lawyers. This prompted the IBAHRI to endorse the UNCAT recommendations and urge China to respect the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

In light of the recent crackdown on human rights defenders, the Committee found that by increasing interference in the professional duties of Chinese lawyers and serious violations of their rights, the role of lawyers in eradicating torture has been weakened.

This latest IBAHRI intervention was not the first of its kind. An open letter to His Excellency Mr Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, was also published last summer expressing concern at the unprecedented number of lawyers, human rights activists and support workers who faced unwarranted arrest. The recent persecution of prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and human rights activist Yu Wensheng have, nonetheless, brought to light a number of torture allegations regarding treatment in police custody. The IBAHRI urges authorities in China to investigate torture allegations immediately and comply with the Committee’s recommendations.



Inauguration of Myanmar’s first national independent lawyers’ association

Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and IBA President David W Rivkin opened the inaugural meetings of the newly established Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar (ILAM) during a special ceremony in Naypitaw on 19 January 2016. The launch was hosted by the IBAHRI and the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law and Tranquility, and has been accomplished through an ongoing IBAHRI capacity-building programme.

ILAM is governed through a Central Committee of 120 lawyers elected from each state and region. This body is responsible for setting policies and procedures. A Central Executive Committee (CEC) made up of 30 members, has responsibility of implementing those protocols.

Aung San Suu Kyi commented: ‘We hope that ILAM can take the lead in upholding professional standards and ethics among lawyers in Burma and ensure that they are able to make a major contribution to the country’s progress. On behalf of the Parliamentary Committee, I express gratitude to the IBAHRI for guiding and supporting this initiative.’

During the inaugural meetings ILAM’s first constitution was adopted, CEC office bearers were elected, and the Central Committee gave the CEC an initial mandate for ILAM’s early years of operation. Under the leadership of ILAM’s first President, Mr Sein Win Chan, ILAM will focus on legal ethics, continuing legal education, law reform, membership and communications.

The IBAHRI is now undertaking the next phase of the capacity-building programme, working towards the establishment of the ILAM secretariat.



IBAHRI celebrates 20th anniversary

On 5 December 2015 the IBAHRI celebrated its 20th anniversary by hosting a fundraising gala with friends of the Institute at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.

Guests, dressed in black tie, gowns and cocktail dresses, were treated to a three-course meal in the famous Long Room. Speeches were given by IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy and IBAHRI Director Dr Phillip Tahmindjis, who passionately communicated the importance of the IBAHRI’s work.

Lots at the fundraising auction included a signed football shirt, three-day relaxation retreat in Spain, and unique artworks. These fetched considerably higher sums than their ‘market value’ as those in attendance rallied to maximise the amount of money raised for the Institute.

The event brought together some highly prominent and prestigious human rights lawyers, to raise money for the IBAHRI and celebrate 20 years of working to protect human rights around the world. The IBAHRI has been working with the global legal community to promote and protect human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession worldwide, often advocating for legal colleagues who face extraordinary challenges such as harassment, persecution or the threat of detention while carrying out their professional duties.

To see more photographs from the evening, visit the IBAHRI’s Facebook page at



IBAHRI supports work of UN human rights mechanisms

IBAHRI Council member Anne Ramberg meets with (from L to R) Ambassador Mothusi Bruce Rabasha Palai of Botswana, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Monica Pinto and Patricia O’Brien of Ireland at an IBAHRI event in Geneva’s Palais des Nations marking the 30th anniversary of the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and the 25th anniversary of UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.


The IBAHRI UN Programme was established in 2014 for the IBAHRI to relay its work on the ground to the highest possible level of United Nations forums and to support the work of UN human rights mechanisms in the administration of justice and other relevant thematic areas. The programme was designed to strengthen the dialogue between states and the legal community on human rights through research, advocacy and capacity-building activities.

One of the key components of the programme is the use of research and analysis to advance the effectiveness of UN human rights mechanisms in protecting human rights. The first UN research report is due to be published in March 2016 and will address the ‘role of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in advancing human rights in the administration of justice’. Early findings indicate that the independence of lawyers has been given very little attention by states and the involvement of lawyers in the UPR process has been almost non-existent.

Building on the findings of the report, the IBAHRI aims to strengthen the involvement of lawyers and professional associations in the UPR process. To do this, the IBAHRI has set up an NGO support group comprising international professional associations of lawyers, judges and prosecutors.

As part of its advocacy work, the IBAHRI has submitted a number of shadow reports to the Human Rights Council including on Myanmar, Tajikistan, Hungary and Swaziland, and in preparation for Myanmar’s UPR, which took place on 6 November, the IBAHRI brought a delegation of Myanmar lawyers to Geneva to meet with Member States’ permanent missions and brief them on the situation in the country.



IBAHRI launches torture prevention toolkit

The IBAHRI recently launched a new torture prevention toolkit for Brazilian prison monitors, in partnership with the Rio de Janeiro State Government Human Rights Secretariat. Drawing on the 2013 theory-based report, Protecting Brazilians from Torture: A Manual for Judges, Persecutors, Public Defenders and Lawyers, the accompanying toolkit provides practical guidance for prison bodies and civil society organisations monitoring the conditions of detention, in compliance with international standards. The toolkit has been made possible with support from the Australian Government’s Direct Aid Program and marks the start of a new IBAHRI partnership in the region. Read the full story at



Venezuela’s political appointees to Court

The IBAHRI has called for Venezuela’s National Assembly – the legislative branch of the Venezuelan government – to block moves to pack the Supreme Court with political appointees. On 8 December, Diosdado Cabello, President of the outgoing National Assembly, announced that 18 new members of the 32-member Supreme Court would be appointed before the newly elected National Assembly takes office on 5 January 2016. This procedure has been conducted by a commission controlled by the government representatives. The implications of these actions for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are of considerable concern to the IBAHRI. Read the full story at



Ghana gets tough on judicial corruption

Ruth Green

The exposure of widespread corruption in Ghana’s judicial system shocked the world in 2015, but there are promising signs the country is taking a tough stance to get its judiciary back on track.

Allegations of corruption in Ghana’s judiciary are not unusual, but the scale of the problem came to light in September 2015, when a documentary by local investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas showed hours of video and audio footage revealing judges and magistrates accepting bribes to influence their decisions in court.

The documentary caused outcry across Ghanaian society, but Nene Amegatcher, Immediate Past President of the Ghana Bar Association and
Vice-Chair of the IBA African Regional Forum, says the country’s Judicial Council is already sending a strong signal that 2016 will be the year it gets serious about stamping out judicial corruption.

‘I was surprised by the numbers – I thought there would be one or two judges perhaps – so I was very shocked by the number of judges involved. The Judicial Council has taken steps in the last five years to improve substantially the conditions of service of judges,’ he says.

‘The remuneration given to judges right now is such that they should be able to live comfortable lives without collecting any sort of bribes from parties, so that’s why we are surprised.’

The documentary implicated a total of 34 judges and magistrates, both at the High Court and lower court level. Amegatcher is a member of the country’s Judicial Council, and was also appointed to the five-strong disciplinary committee, which comprises both judges and lawyers and was set up to investigate complaints against the 21 lower court judges.

Some of the judges filed a writ contesting the legality of the inquiry and a separate injunction to halt the committee’s investigations, but both challenges were dismissed at the High Court. After carrying out its inquiry, on 7 December the committee dismissed 20 lower court judges and acquitted and discharged just one judge on lack of evidence.

At the High Court level, two now-retired judges have escaped impeachment, while a further three are challenging their impeachment in court. Impeachment proceedings for another judge are currently suspended while he is undergoing medical treatment.

“ The negative impact of judicial corruption and loss of the right to a fair trial cannot be overstated

Sternford Moyo
Former President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe and Chair of the IBA African Regional Forum

One other judge has been acquitted, but the Judicial Council set up two impeachment committees to handle the process against the remaining seven High Court judges and have submitted their recommendations to President John Dramani Mahama, who by law is the only person that can authorise their impeachment and removal from the bench.

Sternford Moyo, former President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe and Chair of the IBA African Regional Forum, agrees that the problems facing Ghana are significant, but sadly not unique.

‘The negative impact of judicial corruption and loss of the right to a fair trial cannot be overstated,’ he says. ‘In addition to promoting injustice and unfairness, it undermines the rule of law and confidence in the administration of justice.

‘Of even deeper concern is the fact that this is not a matter peculiar to the Ghana judiciary,’ continues Moyo. ‘Allegations and perceptions of corruption have been made in a number of other African countries and indeed in other parts of the world as well.’

Once removed from the bench, the disgraced High Court judges may face prosecution by the Attorney-General and will be struck off and disbarred by the General Legal Council.

Judges are not the only group under scrutiny though – so far the Judicial Council is investigating more than 100 administrative court staff caught on camera facilitating bribes.

To date, no lawyers have been implicated in the corruption scandal. 

At the beginning of January, Ghana’s Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood swore in five new circuit judges and eight magistrates to replace those judges that have already been dismissed. Although Ghana has around 380 judges, with an estimated 120 currently sitting in the High Court, Amegatcher says the shortage of judges in active service is putting severe strain on court resources.

‘We do not have enough judges, but what the Chief Justice has done is to give other judges temporary oversight responsibilities for these courts, which implies that some judges are manning two courts as a temporary measure,’ says Amegatcher.

He noted that ten Appeal Court judges have also been transferred to the High Court to provide assistance until new appointments are made.

Both Moyo and Amegatcher believe reforming the appointment process and training for judges is vital to eradicate corruption in Ghana’s judiciary.

‘We already have the Judicial Training Institute, but that [largely] handles training for those that are coming into the service for the first time, rather than concentrating on continuous professional development for judges, so it’s quite likely that some of them lack training in ethics and that’s why they find themselves in that situation,’ says Amegatcher.

‘We also want to reform the appointment process, to learn from other jurisdictions, to use best practices and exchange ideas with other countries that are facing similar problems. For us it is an opportunity to weed the bad nuts out, to minimise corruption and get the right people in the judiciary. The Chief Justice is leaving no stone unturned in order to achieve this.’