Lawyers at risk meet UN Special Rapporteur in Belgrade

On 11-12 June 2016 the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Human Rights House Network (HRHN) brought together human rights lawyers from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) for a special consultation with Monica Pinto, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. Bringing together 50 lawyers from 16 different countries in Central Asia, the Balkans, Europe, North and South Caucasus, the discussion centred on the dangers, threats and barriers that lawyers in the region face when carrying out their professional duties.

Similar problems seem to be present across countries in the region. Lawyers exchanged stories of arbitrary detentions, disbarment, lack of access to clients, restrictive legislation, threats and even attacks.

Speaking at the event in Belgrade, the UN Special Rapporteur pointed out that this is something she had seen around the world, ‘There is a common pattern that less democratic the government is, the less rule of law you have in the country and the more problems lawyers will have to face. It is true that putting obstacles to lawyers who are dealing with very sensitive cases, [or] extremely political cases, is a common pattern all over the world.’

But Ms Pinto also recognised, that the EECA region appears to have a particularly serious problem.

‘However, there are some trends or rather specific problems to this region. I think this is one of the only regions in the world that has the highest fear of disbarment of lawyers.’

Focusing on the practical weaknesses of the international guarantees for the independence of Lawyers, the challenges that local legislation presents for practitioners, and the role that bar associations should play in protecting legal professionals, the lawyers in attendance drafted recommendations to the Special Rapporteur and to the United Nations. These recommendations, as well as the experiences of the lawyers in attendance, will feed into the work of the Special Rapporteur and support her reporting to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

Azerbaijani Lawyer Intigam Aliyev, who was recently released from prison, where he was serving a seven and a half year prison sentence spoke at the event. He noted the importance of such a consultation, ‘I am glad to see our heroes – lawyers – participating in this meeting with the Special Rapporteur as it gives them a possibility to communicate our problems to her. At the same time, we hope she can learn about our region and the problems that lawyers face in our countries.’

Most importantly, Mr Aliyev noted the difference that such a consultation could make. 

‘Not long ago there was a feeling that international organisations did not quite understand the reality in our region and individual countries. For this reason, Monica’s participation and her presentation, once again gave us hope that what we discussed during the dialogue will beard and will be communicated at the highest political forums of the UN.’

IBAHRI continues its support for the legal profession in the EECA region, where it has undertaken work to tackle intimidation, interference in the work of legal practitioners and continues to advocate for the independence of lawyers.


Special Rapporteur's report to the UN General Assembly:

Following the consultation, Special Rapporteur Monica Pinto produced a report for the UN General Assembly. This consultation with lawyers from the EECA region, as well as the IBAHRI's 'lawyers at risk' fed into the final report that Ms Pinto produced. The report is available to download in a number of languages:

English | French | Spanish | Arabic | Chinese | Russian