Can Yeginsu and Catherine Amirfar announced to the leadership of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom

Thursday 2 December 2021

The Rt Hon Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury has appointed Can Yeginsu and Catherine Amirfar to serve as the Deputy Chairs of The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom. Mr Yeginsu and Ms Amirfar succeed Amal Clooney, who now becomes Special Advisor to the Chair of the Panel in this next chapter of the High Level Panel’s work.

The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom is an independent body that was established in July 2019 at the request of the United Kingdom and Canadian governments to provide advice to the Members of the Media Freedom Coalition of States. The High Level Panel comprises a diverse group of 15 leading lawyers and jurists from around the world. It has published four advisory reports, as well as opinions on draft state legislation, and been asked to intervene by international courts in priority cases impacting media freedoms. The High Level Panel will commence its second term from January 2022, and Lord Neuberger will announce several new appointments to the Panel in the new year.

Can Yeginsu is a barrister, practising from 4 New Square Chambers in London. He is recognised as one of the UK’s leading lawyers practising in civil liberties and human rights, public international law, and in international arbitration and commercial litigation. Mr Yeginsu has appeared in numerous cases as lead counsel representing journalists and writers, as well as free speech and media organisations, before a range of courts and tribunals, including the UK Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice. Mr Yeginsu is international counsel for Nobel Peace Laureate, Maria Ressa, and is lead counsel before the Strasbourg Court in challenges brought to the foreign agent laws in Russia and the Wikipedia ban (now lifted) in Turkey. Mr Yeginsu also continues to teach international law at Columbia Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and Koç University Law School. He was appointed to the High Level Panel by Lord Neuberger in July 2019 and is the author of the Panel’s Advisory Report on Providing Safe Refuge to Journalists at Risk. Mr Yeginsu is a Fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law and the University of Cambridge. He also sits on the Advisory Board of Reporters Without Borders and is a Trustee of English PEN.

Catherine Amirfar is Co-Chair of the International Dispute Resolution Group and the Public International Law Group at Debevoise & Plimpton. Her practice focuses on public international law, international commercial and treaty arbitration, and complex international commercial litigation. With over 20 years of experience, Ms Amirfar has argued before United States courts and international courts and arbitral tribunals sitting around the world, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ). She has deep expertise representing states, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and multinational companies. In 2020, Ms Amirfar was elected as President of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), the premier US organisation dedicated to the study and promotion of international law around the world. She currently co-hosts ASIL’s podcast, International Law Behind the Headlines. Before rejoining Debevoise, Ms Amirfar spent two years as the Counselor on International Law to the Legal Adviser at the US Department of State in the Obama Administration and received the Department’s Superior Honor Award in recognition of her contributions. She also serves as a Member of the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Rt Hon Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom stated: ‘I am delighted to announce the new Deputy Chairs of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom. They are Can Yeginsu and Catherine Amirfar, two truly first-class lawyers with real commitment to media freedom. The members of the High Level Panel will be looking to them and to my Special Advisor, Amal Clooney, for strategic direction in this, the second, phase of our work. The members of the Panel have significant achievements to their credit in the past two years. The time has now come for the Panel to ensure that at least some of the advice and recommendations of their reports are turned into action, especially by the members of the Media Freedom Coalition of States.’

Can Yeginsu, Barrister and Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom said: ‘It is a real honour to be taking on this new leadership role on the High Level Panel with Catherine. Since my appointment to the Panel in 2019, I have had the pleasure and the privilege of working with, and learning from, a group of exceptional legal minds under the expert stewardship of Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney. As we enter the second chapter of our work, our attention inevitably turns now to the States that we have been asked to advise and working with them to turn their words and communiques into concrete action. As I indicated in my Report on Providing Safe Refuge to Journalists at Risk, if democracies are to stand a chance of combatting the spread of truth decay, we must start by deploying all legal means to protect those who risk their lives to inform us. Democratic States have a critical role to play in this endeavor and must now set an example to the world through their actions.’

Catherine Amirfar, Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom stated: ‘I am delighted to join the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, a renowned group of lawyers bringing international attention to the current and acute crisis experienced by media workers. Today, media workers across the world face an array of dangers in their work, including online attacks, judicial harassment, prosecution, verbal abuse, kidnappings, and tragically, even killings. In 2020 alone, it is reported that at least 274 journalists were imprisoned, 32 were killed, and 65 were reported missing. These horrific attacks will continue to increase if no action is taken. Attacks on media workers are made possible where there exists a deeply rooted culture of impunity, therefore preventing accountability for these horrific acts and encouraging perpetrators to silence media professionals even further. I admire the excellent work that the High Level Panel has delivered thus far, and I look forward to working with Can and my new colleagues to support the advancement of legal frameworks to strengthen protection for media freedom globally.’

Amal Clooney, Barrister and Special Advisor to the Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, said: ‘I am delighted that my brilliant colleagues, Catherine Amirfar and Can Yeginsu, will be taking on this new role. The threats to a free press are as urgent as ever. But convening legal experts to produce policy advice will not help journalists unless states actually start to implement changes – and I hope that this is something we will now start to see.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. Amal Clooney served as Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom from July 2019- July 2021. Although no longer a member of the High Level Panel, Ms Clooney will continue to work in a new capacity in this next phase, serving as Special Advisor to the Chair of the Panel, Lord Neuberger.
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) acts as Secretariat to the High Level Panel.
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