The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (“BHRC”) joins 47 international organisations in a letter to several UN Special Rapporteurs requesting urgent action ahead of the next hearing in the criminal trial of those accused of killing lawyer Tahir Elçi in 2015.
Tahir Elçi was a prominent figure within the international and domestic lawyers’ community. He had practiced law for around 25 years. At the time of his death, he was the President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. He was well known for having acted for victims in a number of leading cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the forced evictions of Kurdish villages, enforced disappearances, summary executions, and torture and ill-treatment by the security and/or state-affiliated forces.
As a part of these activities, as the president of Diyarbakir Bar Association, he helped to organise a press conference to draw attention to the damage inflicted on the cultural and historic heritage in the region during the armed clashes. The press conference took place in front of a historic minaret damaged by security operations on the morning of 28 November 2015. During this conference, an armed clash took place between two armed PKK militia members and the police, during which Tahir Elçi was shot dead.
The letter requests the Special Rapporteurs call on the Turkish authorities to ensure:
i. The case is heard by an independent, impartial, and competent court that is capable of establishing the facts and truth around the killing of Mr. Elçi; ii. All future hearings comply with international standards regarding the right to a fair trial, in which the victims’ rights are also recognised; iii. The hostile attitude from the court towards the Elçi family and their lawyers and the court’s persistent refusal to follow the rules of procedure and principles of both domestic and international law are not repeated in future hearings; iv. The lawyers for the Elçi family are given reasonable opportunities to be heard and to make their applications in relation to the procedure and the evidence;
Seven months have passed since the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer, Hejaaz Hizbullah. When he was taken into custody on 14 April, his friends and family, and some within his fraternity, decried the obvious injustice. They were quickly told to quieten down and ‘let the justice system do its work’. They were told not to interfere with the investigation. They were told to be patient, as the truth would eventually emerge, and perhaps set Hejaaz free.
Seven months have passed. The investigations continue with no indictment in sight. If law enforcement authorities and prosecutors actually had a case against Hejaaz, wouldn’t they have framed charges by now? Should we let the authorities investigate in perpetuity?
Seven months have passed, and the media circus has dissipated, making clowns out of all those who prejudged Hejaaz’s guilt. The media callously aired so-called ‘damning’ evidence, and set out to make a monster out of Hejaaz. They have only made him a martyr, as none of the evidence appears to be credible.
Seven months have passed. Hejaaz is yet to be produced before a judge. A Magistrate has repeatedly expressed concerns over the handling of the investigations. But he has no power under our draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to insist that Hejaaz be produced in court. So Hejaaz’s virtually incommunicado detention continues without any judicial supervision.
Hejaaz’s case is no outlier. It reflects both the danger faced by lawyers who dare do the work of justice, and the indifference of many others who care not to question injustice. So it is not just Hejaaz who is on trial right now. The bell tolls for the entire profession. Those who walk in Hejaaz’s footsteps will feel the deterring weight of the sheer absurdity of his predicament; they will be tempted to abandon their path because they know they could be next. If the injustice against Hejaaz is left unaddressed, it sets a new precedent for all lawyers: they now confront the risk of being punished for doing their job, and face the danger of being abandoned by their colleagues.
Representatives from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Colombian Caravana (UK) have returned to Medellin to continue observing the trial of Santiago Uribe Vélez, the brother of former President and current Senator, Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Santiago Uribe is accused of heading a paramilitary group in North Antioquia during the early 1990s that became known as the “12 Apostles”. He also is charged with the murder of bus driver, Camilo Barrientos Durán, in 1994. During its existence, the 12 Apostles sought to carry out what many have referred to as ‘social cleansing’ – eliminating those considered ‘undesirable’ to the group such as sex workers and drug addicts. In addition, the group targeted members and supporters of guerrilla groups. The group is considered to be responsible for over 500 murders and disappearances during this period.
International observation missions were organised following evidence of threats and intimidation to lawyers and witnesses in the case. Daniel Prado, lawyer to the victims of the case, has been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Medida cautelar N° 261-16 of 20 November 2017), which stated that “the rights to life and personal integrity of Mr. Daniel Ernesto Prado Albarracín are at grave risk.” We understand that, although the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección) provided him with a car as a security measure, it does not have reinforced windows which means that it does not provide adequate protection.
The mission has been informed about serious attempts having been made to undermine the work of the prosecution. It is reported that in November 2017 a plan was uncovered to murder Olwan de Jésus Agudelo Betancurt, one of the witnesses in the case.
On this day, 5 April 2019 – celebrated as Lawyers’ Day in Turkey – 34 organizations, including Lawyers for Lawyers, take the opportunity to strongly condemn the ongoing crackdown against lawyers in Turkey. View the full statement here.
Following the failed coup d’état of 15 July 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and adopted a series of decree-laws that seriously undermined human rights and the rule of law across the country. Although the state of emergency was lifted in July 2018, many of the decree-laws were integrated into ordinary laws and the persecution of lawyers continues, including mass arrests, unfair trials and harsh sentences.
According to the latest information available, since July 2016:
▪ 1546 lawyers have been prosecuted;
▪ Almost 600 lawyers have been arrested;
▪ 274 lawyers have been sentenced to long prison terms – the average prison term being 7 years.
Lawyers are being targeted solely because they are carrying out their professional activities, on the basis of alleged accusations of supporting terrorist organisations. The use of “mass trials” against lawyers or lawyers’ associations is frequent and fundamental rights and procedural safeguards are often not respected.
🕊️✊#FreeTurkishlawyers: On the occasion of the Lawyers' Day in Turkey, the CCBE and several other organisations take the opportunity to strongly condemn the ongoing crackdown against lawyers in Turkey.
Amnesty et plusieurs associations d’avocats sont devant l’ambassade de #Turquie à #Bruxelles. Ils demandent notamment la libération de 18 avocate·s condamné·e·s le 20/03 après des procès inéquitables. 👉 Notre spécialiste Turquie est disponible pour interview pic.twitter.com/TZTUeo163P
International delegation heads to Colombia to observe the trial of Santiago Uribe Velez in the “12 Apostles” case
An international delegation of lawyers comprising the Colombia Caravana (UK), the Bar Human Rights Committee (England & Wales) and supported by the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk is in Colombia this week to observe final hearings in the case of ‘Los Doce Apostoles’. The main defendant is Santiago Uribe Velez, brother of former President and current Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, who stands accused of co-founding the paramilitary group ‘Los Doce Apostoles’ and for the murder of bus driver Camilo Barrientos Duran, allegedly murdered by the group in 1994 in Antioquia.
The victims are represented by Daniel Prado Albarracin, a Colombian human rights lawyer who has represented families of enforced disappearance since the early 1990s. Despite the adoption of the Colombian peace accord in November 2016,’in Colombia, being a human rights defender is a high-risk occupation’: since 2016 there has been an increase in the killings of human rights defenders, to an estimated rate of one in every three days. These risks are particularly prevalent in the case of lawyers like Prado who seek justice for victims of the armed conflict and fight to pierce the culture of impunity which has surrounded systematic human rights violations for decades.
Colombia is bound by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the ICCPR and the ACHR, all of which impose obligations on the State to protect defenders from violations of their rights to physical integrity and private life in the exercise of their professional functions.
Three international law associations have urged United Nations (UN), enter into urgent dialogue with the Turkish government with a view to ending the persecution and prosecution of legal professionals in the country.
The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Law Society of England and Wales have written a 34-page report in relation to breaches of the rights and protections of the legal profession in Turkey and submitted Diego García-Sayán, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers on Tuesday in Geneva.
The report entitled “International Law Breaches Concerning the Independence of Legal Profession in Turkey” which was submitted to the UN related to human rights violations which have occurred and are occurring since the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and examines the position post the ending of the State of Emergency in Turkey.
“Primarily, new laws place in a statutory framework the pre-existing threats to the independence of the legal profession, including arbitrary arrest and detention, dismissals, and breaches of the right to a fair trial and due process,” said the international law associations in their joint letter in which they presented the report to UN’s García-Sayán.
During HRC 38, IBAHRI co-organised a UN side event with the #LawSocietyand #BHRC on the state of emergency and the independence of the legal profession in #Turkey. The discussion focused on the systematic persecution of lawyers and threats to the rule of law since the attempted coup in 2016. Watch event: https://vimeo.com/277104106
IBAHRI also delivered an oral statement on behalf of five other organisations on widespread human rights violations against Turkish lawyers.
The Bar Council of England and Wales and the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) have written jointly to Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to voice concerns over Turkey’s ongoing and large-scale prosecution of judges, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders with the Turkish President when the two meet on Tuesday.
The letter, which has also been copied to the Lord Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary, is the second such letter that the Bar Council and BHRC have written to the UK Prime Minister on the injustices in Turkey.
The legal bodies refer to further information that, since the failed coup in 2016, 2431 (out of 4560 dismissed) judges and prosecutors, 580 lawyers, and 319 journalists and media workers have been arrested; an estimated 1000 judges and prosecutors, 400 lawyers and 180 journalists and media workers are still detained; and more than 5,966 judges, prosecutors and lawyers are facing prosecution.
Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:
“The seriousness of what legal professionals and human rights defenders have been – and continue to be – subjected to in Turkey cannot be overstated. The impact reaches internationally. This is a significant threat not only to those individuals affected, but also to the fundamental principles of the rule of law, without which a truly fair and democratic society cannot exist, and which authorities are duty-bound to protect.
Comment: An open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, from Andrew Walker QC and Kirsty Brimelow QC of the Bar Council of England and Wales
The Bar Council of England and Wales and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales express profound concern for lawyers and other human rights defenders in Iran who continue to be persecuted for undertaking their professional obligations to their clients, enabling them to exercise the basic human right of access to justice.
The Bar Council and the Bar Human Rights Committee are particularly concerned about the ongoing detention of the prominent lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani and Narges Mohammadi who have spent their legal careers advocating for the rule of law in Iran.
Abdolfattah Soltani, the lawyer and co-founder with Dr Shirin Ebadi of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders (DHRC) is currently serving a 13-year sentence for “spreading propaganda against the system”, “endangering national security” and “setting up an illegal opposition group”.
He was also charged with “accepting an illegal prize” relating to his acceptance of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. Mr Soltani has now been in prison for almost six years, despite suffering from numerous medical conditions.