Calling all Barefooted Lawyers!
Lawyers worldwide have taken a stand and have been silenced by oppressive regimes, as barefooted lawyers you can help raise awareness and end the violation of human rights.
When we talk of international human rights, the protection of civil liberties and the rule of law we perhaps take the role of the lawyer for granted. The advocate, the adviser and the human rights defender; the lawyer is many things to many people, but above all the lawyer plays an intrinsic part in upholding a fair system for the administration of justice. When states allow, or acquiesce in the abuse, disappearance or killing of lawyers it is not just the human rights of those lawyers that are violated but it is the system of justice that is completely undermined.
When a lawyer’s human rights are violated the breach is two-fold, their human rights and the right to access independent legal services.
Surely something can be done?
THE FRAMEWORK FOR PROTECTION
The UN Human Rights Council is mandated to protect and promote human rights. As part of this international human rights framework, the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers was created back in 1994, after the UN Commission on Human Rights noted the troubling rise in attacks on the independence of lawyers. Approaching 20 years later, the news is still littered with reports of attacks on lawyers and judges.
Governments are simply choosing to ignore the clear messages behind some of our well-known human rights instruments. The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers were adopted in 1990, and they provide basic guarantees for the independence of the legal profession.
Principle 16 provides that lawyers should be free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, and not threatened with prosecution or sanctions. In spite of Principle 18, which provides that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes, human rights defenders worldwide are targeted for representing unpopular defendants in oppressive regimes.
Although these Basic Principles are not binding, the underlying protection of independence is mirrored in the right to a fair trial in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14) and in the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 6).
In spite of the attempts in international law to provide protection for lawyers and for the independence of the legal system, Governments still attempt to influence lawyers, and those they cannot influence, they silence.
It was the brave story of barefooted lawyer Chen Guangcheng that kicked off the Barefoot Lawyer Campaign. Chinese human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, referred to as the “barefooted lawyer”, was placed on house arrest on 9th September 2010. He had been hounded by his government for raising awareness of human rights infringements within rural areas in China. He escaped in April 2012 and continues to be an advocate for human rights, but his story of persecution is sadly not unique.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, an independent human rights organisation, report on the situations across countries. Their annual reports tell of prosecution, abuse, imprisonment and murder. From 2012 to 2013 the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers sent 96 correspondences in relation to threats to lawyers, but this is clearly just representative of those few cases that get reported or are surrounded by enough media attention.
On reading about Chen Guangcheng’s ordeal and the suffering of lawyers worldwide, Birmingham barrister, Jason Hadden MBE, started the campaign to raise awareness and to press governments worldwide to allow lawyers to do their jobs in safety; ‘simply put, enough is enough. It is unacceptable in today’s world for any lawyer to be persecuted or harassed for undertaking their professional duty on behalf of their client.’
What can you do?
Join the campaign expressing solidarity and pressurising governments to end the persecution of lawyers. Whether you are in your office, meeting clients or in a court room, go barefoot to support the idea that lawyers should be free to represent their clients without any restrictions or pressure from governments.
Follow us on twitter and help us raise awareness. @tweetlawfeet
We welcome all news items on situations where lawyers or human rights defenders are being silenced.
Send in pictures of your peaceful barefoot lawyer protest.
‘All of us can become a barefooted lawyer for one day’