A coalition of international legal advocates sent a joint letter Saturday to Professor Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, condemning the growing trend of government officials intimidating and endangering the legal representatives of politically controversial clients. They also called for greater protections to be granted to advocates, the clients they represent, and for the UN to address the diminishing safety of legal advocates worldwide.
The UK based advocacy organization CAGE submitted the joint letter on behalf of 45 signatories. The list of signatories comprises numerous well-known legal professionals including Stanley Cohen, Aamer Anwar, Michael Finucane, Fahad Ansari, David Hugh Southey, David Gottlieb, and Gareth Pierce. The letter cites many examples of these deteriorating protections for human rights advocates and NGOs that represent individuals accused of politically motivated violence. The group also asserts that these advocates are “routinely harassed and vilified by the press, threatened by the public, and intimidated, incarcerated, and assassinated by the state and its agents.” Despite suffering from systemic abuse, the group claims that these advocates have no legal recourse because the governments themselves are often complicit in the abuse.
While many autocratic regimes are well-known for their persecution of human rights advocates and legal representatives, the group underscores that despite chronic underreporting on the subject, there is a growing prevalence of these state abuses in “developed” nations. Solicitor Fahad Ansari elaborated on this point by saying that “lawyers in many parts of the developed world fare much better than their counterparts in the global South” when advocates “hail from minority communities and share the religion and/or ethnicity of their clients, the animosity towards the client is projected by extension to their lawyer.” The letter also provides many prominent examples of such politically motivated animus by government officials and the sometimes deadly repercussions this normalization of degrading legal representatives can have for the advocates themselves.