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The IBA’s response to the situation in Ukraine
With the conclusion of the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), held from 27 February to 4 April 2023, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) reflects on the key discussions and outcomes of the session, the side events held, and the resolutions passed.
The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of a resolution renewing the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine. The IBAHRI has closely followed and contributed to the informal discussion and in an oral statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the COI, the IBAHRI stated that it was appalled by the findings of the investigations, which indicated the commission of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by Russian forces. Francesca Restifo, IBAHRI Senior Human Rights Lawyer and UN representative, was invited to speak on behalf of the IBAHRI and IBA at a side event organised by Ukraine and the Human Rights House Foundation on accountability measures for war crimes in Ukraine.
The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran to a more substantial resolution addressing some of the key issues of concern. In a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur, delivered by the IBAHRI and supported by Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, the Law Society of England and Wales, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Geneva Bar Association, the organisations expressed concern over reports of torture and ill-treatment by authorities in Iran, including beatings, maiming, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings and public executions of peaceful protestors.
The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar maintaining the situation high on the agenda of the UNHRC and reaffirming the Council’s collective condemnation of the grave violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in the country. The IBAHRI has actively participated in the informal consultations and suggested inputs.
In a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, the IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers condemned the junta’s execution of four political prisoners in July 2022 following summary and unfair trials, and the military government’s use of capital punishment as a tool to crush democracy activists. At least 103 political prisoners are on death row and at risk of execution, while 41 people have been sentenced to death in absentia.
In another joint statement with the Law Council of Australia, IBAHRI denounced the Myanmar military's use of the legal system to conceal human rights abuses and avoid accountability. They condemned the junta's expansion of criminal offences punishable by death penalty; the increase of penalties; removal of protections against unlawful search, seizure, and detention; and systematic sham trials before military-controlled courts.
The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution renewing the mandate of the Accountability Mechanism on Belarus. The IBAHRI has actively participated in the informal consultations and suggested inputs. In a joint statement, IBAHRI expressed alarm over the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, condemning the lack of judicial independence, fair trial guarantees, and criminal prosecution of human rights defenders. The statement highlighted the arbitrary detention of around 1,500 persons, including lawyers and human rights defenders. The IBAHRI urged the UNHRC to renew and enhance the accountability mechanism by establishing an independent mechanism building on the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ examination of the human rights situation in Belarus. The IBAHRI also co-sponsored a side event on the deterioration of the situation in Belarus.
The IBAHRI expressed concern over reports of rape and sexual violence committed by Eritrean troops in Ethiopia, despite the peace deal signed in November 2022. In a statement during the Interactive Dialogue on Eritrea, the IBAHRI called for independent investigations into the issue, assistance to survivors, and for journalists to be allowed into Tigray to report on the situation. The IBAHRI emphasised the need to bring perpetrators to justice and shed light on previously hidden human rights violations. During the Interactive Dialogue with the Group of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, the IBAHRI gave a statement addressing issues related to Tigray and minorities, with particular emphasis on the need to investigate all reports of rape and sexual violence and ensure those responsible are brought to justice.
The IBAHRI expressed grave concern about the human rights violations in Sudan since the October 2021 military coup during the 52nd session of the UNHRC. The IBAHRI condemned the killing and maiming of peaceful protestors, as well as the arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and sexual and gender-based violence carried out by security forces. They also highlighted the absence of accountability for past and current abuses, including the Khartoum massacre and international crimes committed in Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan. The IBAHRI called on the UNHRC to support the Sudanese people's push to a civilian-led democracy and ensure accountability for security forces' actions.
In a joint statement during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) adoption on the Philippines, the IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers denounced the practice of ‘red-tagging’ and urged the Philippines to accept and effectively implement all recommendations without delay. Special attention was placed on the increasing attacks against lawyers in the Philippines and the climate of impunity resulting from inadequate investigations. The IBAHRI, with partners from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, co-sponsored a side event on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The IBAHRI organised a side event on justice for the atrocities committed by Daesh against the Yazidis in Iraq and presented the findings of the IBAHRI mission to Iraq. The event focused on progress made on justice and accountability, practical steps to ensure timely justice, and ways to strengthen Iraq's legal system. The IBAHRI urged the international community to prosecute Daesh members for their involvement in the genocide, noting that only Germany has prosecuted perpetrators for genocide and crimes against humanity. The event was moderated by IBAHRI Programme Lawyer Dr Ewelina Ochab and speakers included survivors, community representatives, legal experts and politicians.
In a joint statement during the adoption of the UPR on Poland, the IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers raised concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in Poland, pointing out the legislative changes that undermine the rule of law. They urged the Polish government to respect the independence of the judiciary, protect judges from political pressure, and comply with international human rights standards.
In a joint statement during the adoption of the UPR, the IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers expressed concern over the continued harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists in Algeria. They called on the Algerian government to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of these individuals and uphold their rights to freedom of expression and association.
The IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers raised concerns about the situation of human rights defenders and lawyers in India in a joint statement highlighting instances of harassment, arbitrary detention and reprisals against those who speak out against human rights violations. They called on the Indian government to take immediate action to protect these individuals and ensure a safe environment for them to carry out their work.
The IBAHRI welcomed the addition of a resolution that renewed the mandate of the Group of Experts in Nicaragua. The IBAHRI participated in the informal consultations around the resolution renewing the mandate of the Independent Experts Mechanism on Nicaragua and suggested inputs.
Situation of human rights defenders and the protection of lawyers
The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of the resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. In a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur, the IBAHRI and the Law Council of Australia emphasised the unique role that lawyers play in supporting defenders and upholding human rights in critical contexts.
In another joint statement, the IBAHRI alongside Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Lawyers for Lawyers, and OVD-Info honoured the courage of lawyers upholding human rights in countries such as China, Colombia, Iran, Philippines, Russia and Turkey where they routinely face harassment, persecution, detention and torture. The organisations called on all states to adopt and implement robust laws and policies to protect human rights lawyers and defenders worldwide.
During the General Debate on the UPR, the IBAHRI issued a joint statement with the International Association of Judges highlighting the importance of the independence of legal professionals and the need to protect them from undue interference, harassment and persecution, emphasising that justice actors including lawyers, prosecutors and judges play a crucial role in protecting human rights and promoting the rule of law. The UPR process should be used to engage more strategically with these actors. The IBAHRI encouraged all states under review, recommending states, and troikas, to prioritise the role, protection, and independence of legal professionals.
The IBAHRI and the Permanent Mission of Belgium co-organised the high-level side event ‘Lawyer at your own risk’, focusing on the challenges faced by lawyers. The event featured in-person interventions by Ministers of Foreign Affairs from Belgium, Costa Rica, and Togo. Speakers included Delphine Kemneloum Djiraïbé, a prominent human rights lawyer from Chad, Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Ludovic Hennebel, a barrister and professor of law. The event was moderated by IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy KC.
The role of defence lawyers in death penalty cases
The IBAHRI, the Permanent Mission of Belgium and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) hosted a side event on the role of defence lawyers in death penalty cases during the high-level panel on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Speakers, including Baroness Kennedy KC and Ms Satterthwaite, discussed the importance of legal representation in capital cases and highlighted the challenges faced by defence lawyers in their work. The event also addressed the need for states to provide adequate resources and funding for legal aid systems and called for professional counselling to mitigate the psychological impact of working on death penalty cases.
The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. The IBAHRI has actively participated in the informal consultations. In a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the IBAHRI and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada called for a halt to torture and ill-treatment in China and Iran.
During the high-level panel on the Abolition of Death Penalty the IBAHRI delivered an oral statement expressing strong opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances and urged retentionist states to join the global movement towards abolition. The IBAHRI emphasised the importance of limiting the death penalty to the most serious crimes, as required by international law, and condemned its application to drug-related offenses and broadly defined crimes against state security. The IBAHRI also raised concerns about inadequate access to effective legal representation in death penalty cases, highlighting the crucial role that defence lawyers play in preventing wrongful convictions and death sentences.
Sale and sexual exploitation of children
The IBAHRI participated in an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children. The IBAHRI welcomed the report on reparations and called for its recommendations to be implemented by governments. The IBAHRI also called for the international community to locate and rescue missing Yazidi women and children, and to provide them with the necessary assistance to rebuild their lives. Additionally, the IBAHRI urged the international community to ensure that the Yazidi Survivors Law in Iraq is implemented promptly, and that survivors receive reparations without any further delay.
Notes to the Editor
The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
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