We wrote to the Ambassador of Myanmar in the United Kingdom
What’s the issue
We’re concerned about the military coup that took place in Myanmar and the violent repression of protesters, including through the firing of live ammunition which has resulted in numerous casualties.
These actions represent serious human rights abuses. We’re also alarmed by accounts of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as alleged enforced disappearances of lawyers.
We’re also alarmed about reports of ongoing intimidation and harassment of lawyers, as well as lawyers being prevented from providing legal assistance to detained protesters.
These actions deprive the citizens of Myanmar of their access to justice, violate international fair trial guarantees – including the right to have legal representation of one’s own choosing – and the principle of independence of the legal profession. These rights and principles are cornerstones of the rule of law and must be upheld.
We’re particularly concerned about the following cases:
The Law Society has expressed “deep concern” about the British Government’s recent decision not to hold an immediate public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.
In a letter to the British Ambassador Mr Paul Johnston, the Law Society’s President James Cahill says that the Law Society’s Council, at its meeting on 11 December, “re-affirmed its now decades-old policy of demanding that the British Government immediately establish an independent public inquiry into the likelihood of State collusion in the heinous murder of Pat Finucane”.
The letter calls on the ambassador to convey the Society’s condemnation to the British Government, and to ask it to reconsider its position.
“Pat Finucane, in his representation of his clients, defended the rule of law and ensured access to justice, despite the threat this posed to his own safety, a threat that proved fatal when he was brutally shot on 12 February 1989 in front of his wife and children,” Mr Cahill writes.
“His killing sent a message to other lawyers practising in the North that they, too, could be targeted for defending their clients if this challenged certain sectarian interests, and that such lawyers would not be protected,” he adds.
Standing in solidarity with endangered lawyers
Mr Cahill says that the Rule of Law stands as a cornerstone in a properly functioning democracy, but it requires constant vigilance.
“For this reason,” he adds, “the Law Society of Ireland frequently stands in solidarity with endangered lawyers all over the world where they are threatened for their defence of human rights by their opponents, and State authorities collude in such oppression or fail to act to prevent it.
“Accordingly, I am writing to express the solidarity of the Law Society with the family of Pat Finucane in seeking an effective public inquiry into his death, one that is capable of establishing the facts behind his murder and, in particular, the full extent of State collusion in same,” he writes.
The sister of murdered unionist politician Edgar Graham challenged the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein as she addressed a poignant ceremony to mark the 35th anniversary of his death.
Anne Graham spoke at a memorial service outside the university yesterday for her brother, who was shot dead by the IRA in 1983.
Mr Graham was a barrister and law lecturer as well as a promising politician, tipped as a future leader of the Ulster Unionist party.
Wreaths were laid at the spot where he died, across from the Queen’s Film Theatre, during a service organised by students.
Unionist politicians attending the event included former First Minister Lord Trimble, UUP leader Robin Swann and DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly.
A lone piper played a lament after a minute’s silence.
Speaking to the crowd, Ms Graham said the memorial was occurring on a bright day but that it was a dark day when she lost her brother.
“I heard on the 11am news headlines that a politician had been shot at Queen’s,” she said.
“I knew instantly it was Edgar.
“Minutes later, as I tried desperately to find out what hospital he was being taken to, it was announced that Edgar Graham had been shot dead at Queen’s. The world pretty much stopped and changed for me then.”
No one has ever been convicted of Mr Graham’s murder.
His sister has been a vocal critic of Sinn Fein, saying that it had never condemned the killing of the barrister.
Lawyers all over the world risk losing their liberty – and worse – when they seek to uphold fundamental human rights. Jonathan Rayner reports
THE LOW DOWN Across the world in places once deemed ‘safe’, the rule of law is under pressure to give way to populism and authoritarianism – meaning lawyers’ clients and their own support for justice are putting them personally at risk. In Colombia, 120 lawyers were murdered in 2017. President Erdogan’s crackdown in Turkey has seen 22 advocates put on trial for ‘terrorism’, and the list of countries where similar incidences are occurring is long – including China, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Venezuela, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Kenya. Yet international solidarity between lawyers is strong, and many are organising to protect and support persecuted colleagues in a battle for justice that can feel like it must be fought street-by-street.
English lawyers, and this is perhaps to over-dramatise matters, have been at imminent risk of violent death since 1591. That was the year that Shakespeare wrote Henry VI part two and placed the words, ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’, into the mouth of a rebellious Dick the Butcher. Some 427 years later, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2018 was marked by lawyers in 35 European and other cities worldwide. They were showing solidarity with their persecuted Egyptian counterparts, the same way that in the previous two years they had demonstrated their support for imperilled lawyers in China and Honduras.
Egypt, China, Honduras – three nations on three different continents. The threat to lawyers, although small in the UK, is global. Dick the Butcher’s rantings have been supplanted by something altogether more sinister: extra-judicial executions, state-sanctioned wrongful imprisonment and harassment, electronic surveillance and an autocratic disregard for the rule of law. Sir Patrick Elias, president of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk and a retired Appeal Court judge, says the problem is widespread: ‘It flourishes wherever there are dictatorships.’
Belfast solicitor (39) shot dead by loyalist palamilitaries in 1989 attack
The widow of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane is taking her bid for a public inquiry into his death to the UK’s highest court.
Geraldine Finucane’s 39-year-old husband Pat was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in 1989 in an attack found to have involved collusion with the British state.
Mr Finucane, who represented a number of high-profile republicans, was murdered in front of his wife and children at their north Belfast home.
Former prime minister David Cameron decided not to hold a public inquiry into the killing — one of the most notorious of The Troubles — but ordered an investigation by a senior lawyer.
The review by Sir Desmond de Silva QC, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, concluded there was “no overarching state conspiracy” in the lawyer’s death but found “shocking” levels of state collusion involving the army, police and MI5.
Mrs Finucane has described Sir Desmond’s 2012 report as a “whitewash” and has waged a lengthy legal battle for a public inquiry.
In February last year, she lost the latest round of the fight at the Court of Appeal in Belfast.
A Belfast lawyer entering the political arena has declined the opportunity to unequivocally condemn the murder of fellow lawyer and politician Edgar Graham.
John Finucane has been selected as Sinn Fein’s general election candidate to contest the North Belfast Westminster seat.
He is the son of lawyer Pat Finucane, 40, who was murdered in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries at his home in the city in 1989.
Edgar Graham was a 29-year-old barrister, Queen’s University law lecturer and Ulster Unionist assembly member. He was shot in the back of the head by IRA gunmen close to Queen’s University in December 1983.
When a current Queen’s University law lecturer stood as a Sinn Fein assembly candidate in March, he faced widespread criticism for refusing to specifically condemn the murder of Edgar Graham as a killing that could in not be justified in any way – instead, speaking of his “profound sorrow” at all Troubles-related deaths.