A growing concern for the safety of lawyers in Afghanistan after the nation’s takeover by the Taliban
18 October 2021
1. After the withdrawal of international military forces, the Taliban extensively expanded its territorial control in a military campaign and seized control of Kabul on 15 August 2021, thus disintegrating the Government in place. As the Taliban returns to power, the rule of law and the welfare of Afghanistan justice system workers are once again at great risk.
2. Under Taliban rule, judges and lawyers, particularly women legal practitioners, are threatened by persecution for being part of the judicial system and for having carried out their professional duties under the previous regime.
Endangered lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, especially women legal practitioners
3. Since the fall 2001, Afghanistan promoted and practised freedoms and rights protected by the rule of law, and lifestyles away from the one imposed by the Taliban. The US, alongside foreign allies, assisted the post-Taliban government in developing a better judicial and prosecution system by training legal practitioners and enhancing the legal educational system. Parallelly, private contractors and non-profit organisations came into the country and were provided with private law firms’ services on local compliance issues.
4. However, local law firms lost their clients as the Afghan government was collapsing to the Taliban. International contractors, non-profit and non-governmental organisations all left the country during the evacuation window, which was closed on 31 August 2021. Local clients are not in need of legal counsel anymore since all judicial institutions are currently shut down. Law firms, with no clients and no income, had no other choice but to downsize before ultimately closing their doors, and lawyers started to leave the country – legally or illegally.
5. Not all legal practitioners were able to leave the country. Those left stranded behind have been living in hiding, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
6. Such is the case for Latifa Sharifi, a prominent lawyer dedicated to defending women’s rights since 2009, who got stopped at the Kabul airport on 15 August, when trying to leave the country with her family. Ms Sharifi, who assists women victims of domestic violence and through divorce proceedings, received numerous death threats, forcing her to live and work underground.
7. A similar testimony was given over the phone by Sakina Khan (an alias), a practising lawyer based in Kabul who stayed behind while her children left the country. Without a visa, she is just “waiting for the Taliban to come any day now and kill [her]”. And even if the visa comes through, nothing prevents her from getting shot at if she steps outside her house.
8. Prosecutors and judges who, under the previous regime, ruled against and convicted the Taliban are specifically targeted. Farishta, a prosecutor in Afghanistan’s Attorney-General’s office who convicted those who committed rape, murder and domestic violence, is now in danger as the Taliban freed hardened criminals and Islamist militants. For instance, she successfully convicted Mohamad Gol for planning suicide bomb attacks. He was freed. Soon after, he called Farishta telling her that he was seeking revenge. A Prosecutor still living in hiding with his family in Afghanistan gave an identical story.
9. The Law Society of England and Wales president reported that on 18 August 2021, approximately 270 women judges and 170 women lawyers were still in Afghanistan facing great risk.
International organisations and Bar associations’ monitoring and support
10. Among others, the Law Society of England and Wales, the International Bar Association, the American National Bar Association of Women Judges, the French Bar association (Conseil National des Barreaux de France), along with the Italian National Lawyer’s Council (Consiglio Nazionale de Forense) and the General Council of Spanish Lawyers (Consejo General de la Abogacia Espanola) are showing their support and are all mobilised to help their Afghan counterparts.
11. The Law Society of England and Wales, the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada urged the “immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors for safe evacuation” before the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
12. In a joint statement, the Law Society, Bar Council and Bar Human Rights Committee called on the UK government to offer asylum to female judges and ensure that Afghan lawyers, judges are included in the resettlement scheme or Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP). The Government responded positively.
13. The International Academy of Trial Lawyers will sponsor the evacuation of four Afghan lawyers and their families, who face danger from the Taliban due to their work, to the United States pursuant to a program that could temporary entry onto US soil and the opportunity to apply for asylum.
14. On a positive note, 26 female judges and lawyers and their families arrived in Athens from Afghanistan on 30 September 2021. And, Latifa Sharifi was designated recipient of the 2021 UIA Rule of Law Award by the UIA Governing Board.
Read the full news here.
Towards Justiciability of the Right to Education
18 October 2021
From a little girl banned from going to school in rural Afghanistan to university students demonstrating in Switzerland against the extension of the Covid pass requirement to universities, the issue of the right to education has come to the forefront of public debate in the last few months. Among the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to education (Article 26) is not ordinarily the one that generates the most discussion. However, recent events have brought this issue back into the spotlight and have demonstrated once again the vital importance of this right.
As a reminder, the right to education entails (in a nutshell):
- free, compulsory and Universal Primary education;
- generally available, accessible to all and progressively free Secondary education, including technical and vocational
- higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free;
- freedom of choice.
The right to education is often seen as enabling access to all other human rights in addition to being one of the most powerful instruments for lifting people out of poverty. Education is also closely linked to gender equality.
While significant progress has been made in this area in the last few decades, recent crises, whether security or health-related, have highlighted the fragility of these achievements. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the greatest disruption to education systems in history, has had a profound impact on the right to education worldwide. As it is often the case, girls and women have been particularly affected. School closures have made them more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and gender-based violence, making them less likely to pursue their education.
Much of the work in this field needs to be done on a political level, through funding and raising awareness of the importance of receiving a comprehensive education. In an area of interest to the legal practitioner, however, justiciability of the right to education may also contribute to guarantee access to education. Indeed, where rights are justiciable, courts can ensure that the state is held accountable for its actions, in accordance with international, regional and national human rights obligations. The full realization of the right to education requires it to be effectively implemented at the national level through constitutional provisions, legislation and policies.
At the international level, however, the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights, unlike civil and political rights, is still underdeveloped. The recent entry into force of complaints procedures for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is nevertheless a step in the right direction. Alongside national judicial systems, regional Human Rights systems also provide an important source of the right to education case law and ensure that states are held accountable.
In this judicial context, legal professionals, and among them lawyers, have an important role to play and can help to progress towards non-discriminatory access to education, by contributing to clearly define what the right to education encompasses and concretising the obligations of states in this regard.
Read the details here.
AIJA e-voting at 2021 Annual Congress
22 July 2021
For the fourth year, AIJA will be using e-voting at the 2021 Annual Congress! This year, we are electing a new Vice-President of AIJA, a new Treasurer and voting for the partial renewal of the Executive Committee. We will also be using e-voting for other resolutions submitted to the General Assembly on Saturday, 28 August.
E-voting is easy. Join us and enjoy the multiple benefits of e-voting next month in Zurich or online! Here is why:
1. Direct participation
E-voting offers a more time-efficient and transparent way for members to be directly involved in the future of the association. This way association decisions are made with the consideration of the entire organisation.
E-voting is an electronic system that allows members to log into a secure voting platform and cast their votes electronically within their web or mobile browsers from any location and any device.
Voter privacy, election integrity, correctness and security are guaranteed through encryption protocols. To ensure that the election process is secure, please follow these instructions:
Step 1. Please log in on MyAIJA during the election windows and click on the link in the ‘AIJA ELECTIONS’ box you find on top of the home page. The link to the e-voting platform will only be available during the election windows.
Step 2. Once you have clicked on the link, please follow the instructions and fill in the ballot. There will be no further identification required.
Step 3. Proxy holders will fill out as many ballots as the total number of proxies they received in addition to their own vote.
E-voting instantly collects and processes the data in real time. The voting platform can prevent accidental over-voting, as each voter is required to identify with their unique Membership ID Number through MyAIJA.
The Philippines: Attacks against lawyers further escalating
23 June 2021
Together with 29 lawyers’ organisations, bar associations and human rights organisations, AIJA signed a joint statement on the escalating attacks against lawyers in the Philippines.
The undersigned organisations express our deep concern over the attacks and the oppressive working environment lawyers still face in the Philippines.
We call again on the Duterte Government to adequately protect the safety and independence of lawyers and end the culture of impunity in which these attacks occur.
In view of the above, the undersigned organisations and individuals urge the Government of the Philippines to:
1. Investigate promptly, effectively, thoroughly and independently all extrajudicial killings and attacks against lawyers, and other jurists, with the aim of identifying those responsible and bringing them to justice in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards;
2. Take all reasonable measures to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of lawyers, including the provision of adequate protection measures, in consultation with the persons concerned;
3. Create and fully support an independent, credible and impartial body, i.e. not under the control or the influence of the government, composed of members selected exclusively from nominees from lawyers organizations, civil society, the Church and the like in a transparent way, who are known for their human rights record, independency and integrity; this civilian investigative body must be entrusted with the necessary investigative and prosecutorial powers to investigate promptly, impartially and effectively - under international supervisory mandate - all reports and complaints against state security agents with respect to extrajudicial killings, threats and other forms of harassment; the recommendations of this investigative body should be immediately followed by the government.
4. Consistently condemn all forms of threats and attacks against lawyers publicly, at all political levels and in strong terms; and,
5. Fully comply with and create awareness about the core values underlying the legal profession, amongst others by bringing the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers to the attention of relevant stakeholders, especially members of the executive, police, and the military.
Read more about the final statement here.
14 June: International Fair Trial Day and the Ebru Timtik Award
14 June 2021
The right to a fair trial has long been recognised by the international community as a fundamental human right, without a fair trial every individual risks becoming the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Ebru Timtik was one of 18 lawyers in Turkey who were members of the Progressive Lawyers Association, some of which were working at the People’s Law Office, made subject to a prosecution in the Istanbul 37th Assize Court under Articles 314 and 220 of the Turkish Penal Code for terrorist offences. She and her colleagues were convicted on 20 March 2019 after a trial during which basic procedural safeguards and internationally recognised fair trial principles were ignored. Her conviction was based on the testimony of anonymous witnesses, many of which gave inconsistent testimony in relation to alleged facts and time periods. Lawyers acting in her defence were frequently prevented from participating in the proceedings and in some circumstances were excluded.
The defects in the trial process led Ebru Timtik together with one of her colleagues, Aytaç Ünsal, to commence a “death fast” following a hunger strike which began on 5 April 2020, the Turkish “Day of the Lawyer”. Sadly, on 27 August 2020 Ebru Timtik died whilst continuing to protest both her innocence of the charges on which she had been convicted, and the lack of respect for fundamental fair trial principles in the criminal justice system which had prejudiced both her and her colleagues, and many thousands of other individuals in Turkey.
International Fair Trial day - 14 June
In recognition of Ebru Timtik's sacrifice, a number of international bar and lawyers organisations (including AIJA), have come together to arrange an annual “International Fair Trial Day” which will be observed every year on 14 June. Steps are also being undertaken to introduce a new annual Ebru Timtik Award to recognise an individual or an organisation who has, or which has made an exceptional contribution towards securing fair trial rights in the country on which the International Fair Trial Day is focusing for the year in question. Each year a conference will be held, either online or at a physical location in a country chosen because of the level of concern with regard to the lack of respect for fair trial rights in that jurisdiction at that time. There will also be events in the countries across the word on each International Fair Trial Day to raise awareness of the situation in the focus country.
The International Organisation of Young Lawyers (AIJA) fully supports this initiative and wishes to raise awareness on this important issue and to continue to keep Ebru Timtik's memory alive.
To find out more about the International Fair Trial Day, read the statement here.
The Inaugural International Fair Trial Day event will take place later today (15.00-17.20 CEST) online. Watch it live on YouTube.
Great partial victory from AIJA member in significant human rights case involving the right to vote
18 February 2021
Rodrigo Da Silva, an AIJA member native from Uruguay and an American citizen, shares his story on his partial victory related to violations concerning the right to vote by Uruguayan citizens living abroad.
In 2011, I filed a petition against my native country of Uruguay with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) where I am acting in dual capacity as petitioner and counsel. The petition deals with violations concerning the right to vote by Uruguayan citizens living abroad which are estimated to be about 15-20% of the total Uruguay citizenry (there are 3.4 million citizens residing in Uruguay and about 800,000 residing abroad). Uruguayans living abroad can only participate in all national elections if they travel to Uruguay on the date of the election. In other words, there is no mechanism to cast absentee ballots from abroad and it is now the last country in South America that is disenfranchising its citizens in this regard. The lack of implementation of a system for casting ballots from abroad is not only a violation of the Uruguayan Constitution which provides that “every citizen is a member of the sovereignty of the Nation, and as such is both an elector and eligible”, but also violates the American Convention of Human Rights. More importantly, there is no legal proceeding in Uruguay that a citizen like me can bring to compel government officials to implement a system to exercise a right that is being violated by omission or for lack of procedures which is also a separate violation of the judicial protection section of the American Convention.
Proceedings at the IACHR have 2 stages, a jurisdictional one call admissibility where the IACHR decides if the petition meets the jurisdictional basis of exhausting local remedies, if it has been brought within the applicable time, and if it does involve the violation of substantive provisions of the American Convention. Then, if cases are “admissible”, a formal case is opened and the case proceeds to the merits stage. On 25 April 2020, the IACHR issued the attached 3-2 decision in Spanish which found my petition to be admissible and hinted that I should prevail on the merits. The IACHR found that I had exhausted local remedies, that the petition was filed timely as this is an ongoing violation, and that the petition asserts potential violations of Articles 23, 24 and 25 of the American Convention as set forth in Articles 1.1 and 2 of the same.
If I were to prevail on the merits, the Uruguayan government would be directed by the IACHR to implement a system for Uruguayans living abroad to cast votes in national elections, failing which, the IACHR may file an action with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights wherein the IACHR would be the actual plaintiff/petitioner and I would be entitled to participate as a victim. In December 2020, I filed my supplemental memorandum dealing with the merits phase of the case and I am hoping to get a hearing in Washington, DC where the IACHR is headquartered or to present through videoconference oral arguments to further bolster the legal arguments made in the written submissions. Unlike many other countries, the vote of the citizens living abroad can change the outcome of elections in Uruguay.
The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is divided in 19 states (they are called “Departments”), Uruguayans living abroad are commonly in local parlance as “Departamento 20” (“D20” or in English “Department 20”). As you can see from the chart, D20 is the second state by population in a symbolic country that would count all of its citizens living abroad. This shows in a very graphic way the significance in the case, especially considering our current and sitting President won the last election by only 37,000 votes, see here.
Read the IACHR document issued on 25 April 2020, available in Spanish
Read Rodrigo’ supplemental memorandum, available in Spanish
Chart source: INE – Censo 2011 y Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
The Day of the Endangered Lawyer: A struggle to protect Azerbaijani lawyers
21 January 2021
AIJA has joined again this year the international coalition of 32 law organisations and bar associations in recognising the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, which is commemorated on 24 January every year.
On 24 January 1977, four trade union lawyers and an employee were killed in their Madrid office simply for doing their job. Since 2010, this date is remembered as The Day of the Endangered Lawyer. On this special day, international lawyers raise awareness about the number of legal professionals who are being harassed, silenced, pressured, threatened, persecuted, and in some countries tortured and murdered for their work; and they initiate, or further develop a national discussion about ways to protect lawyers.
In the past few years, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer discussed about ongoing threats in countries such as Egypt, Turkey, China, Colombia, and Pakistan. This year, the 11th Day of The Endangered Lawyer focuses on the challenges of Azerbaijani’s lawyers.
Although Azerbaijan has ratified the most important international human rights treaties, authorities continue to violate them. These human rights violations have been noted by international institutions and non-governmental organisations. Furthermore, in 2018, Azerbaijan introduced a law that prevents lawyers who are not members of the Azerbaijan Bar Association (ABA) and other law practitioners from exercising their profession.
The struggle to protect Azerbaijani lawyers - Petition
AIJA, along with other international partners, has signed a petition calling on the Azerbaijani government to fully implement the ratified international human rights treaties, to ensure that lawyers that have suffered damages are compensated, secure that the independence and role of lawyers are respected by all government institutions, among other vital measures.
To learn more about the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, visit the website here.
To find out more about the status of lawyers in Azerbaijan, read the petition here.