Human Rights House Foundation welcomes the report following his visit to Poland of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Alongside the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, we share the Special Rapporteur’s call to the government to simply and bluntly “reconsider its ongoing reform of the judicial system.”
The Polish government did not hear the Special Rapporteur as he ended his visit to Poland in October 2017 and instead continued on the same path.
By now, almost all independent mechanisms that could express their opinion about developments in Poland warned the government about reforms harming the rule of law and the very pillars of Poland’s democracy and human rights system, be it by the Council of Europe, the United Nations or the European Union. Polish authorities have systematically ignored most recommendations and have persisted in dismantling the country’s laws and institutions.
Has the Special Rapporteur seen any signs of engagement with his mandate by the Polish government following the publication of his report on Poland, signaling a will to take his recommendations seriously?
In many of the countries in which Human Rights Houses are established, lawyers work in unacceptable conditions, including facing retaliation for their work. They are harassed, threatened, and intimidated, risk disbarment through abusive use of disciplinary procedures, and they are imprisoned – or worse they are physically attacked and murdered. The principle of confidentiality in lawyers’ communication with clients is violated, and they are denied free access to their clients and to documents.
We have observed these trends in Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. They are particularly worrying, as they threaten the wellbeing of society and the functioning of States under the rule of law.
The violation of existing guarantees for lawyers adds to the need for further protection for human rights lawyers. In recent years we have noted that pressure has intensified on lawyers working on human rights or representing politically motivated and sensitive cases. These lawyers risk exclusion from professional associations of lawyers, and this leaves them without the basic guarantees they need to perform their human rights work.
Professional members of Bar associations and lawyers without such a status can both act as human rights lawyers. However, despite the principle of non-discrimination, lawyers that are not members of Bar associations lack basic protection, guarantees and immunities. This prevents them from undertaking their human rights work and undermines the right of individual petition. The consequence is a loss of trust in human rights instruments – including the international courts and quasi-judicial bodies.
Many of these issues were addressed by the Human Rights Council through its resolution of June 2017, calling upon States to protect lawyers, as well as their families and professional associates, against all forms of violence, threat, retaliation, intimidation and harassment resulting from the discharging of their functions, and to condemn such acts and bring the perpetrators to justice.
In the Republic of Azerbaijan, on 4 June 2018, the human rights lawyer Emin Aslan was arrested and sentenced to 30 days administrative detention for “disobeying police.” Just like many other lawyers who were either disbarred or have faced prison sentences, Emin Aslan has taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights, defending those who disagreed with the policies of the authorities and whose rights were allegedly blatantly violated by Azerbaijan.
As reported by the former Special Rapporteur Monica Pinto, “Arbitrary deprivation of liberty is the most commonly reported type of attack on lawyers.” Retaliation against lawyers bringing cases to international mechanisms, defending politically active individuals or taking cases related to human rights violations is common in Azerbaijan, as we reported in Human Rights Lawyers at Risk.
Most recently, the Azerbaijani Bar Association has suspended the membership of human rights lawyers Fakhraddin Mehdiyev, Nemat Karimli and Asabali Mustafayev for one year, and deprived the license to practice law to Yalchin Imanov and Irada Javadova. The Bar Association also refused to admit several young lawyers due to their political views and willingness to defend political prisoners. In addition, last year’s amendments to the Law On Advocates and Advocate’s Activity prohibit lawyers who are not members of the Bar Association from representing clients in courts altogether, which both paralyses human rights lawyers and leaves citizens without legal defense.
We call upon Azerbaijan to immediately and unconditionally release Emin Aslan. We further call upon Azerbaijan to lift the travel ban on lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Annagi Hajibeyli, immediately allow they readmission to the Bar Association, amongst other lawyers also punished for their work, such as Alaif Hasanov, Khalid Baghirov, Elchin Namazov. Importantly, in April this year the European Court of Human Rights has found that both Aliyev and Hajibeyli have been wrongfully denied admission to the Bar.
Mr Special Rapporteur,
- Could you inform us what you have undertaken to intervene on individual cases of lawyers imprisoned due to their work, such as Emin Aslan or Intigam Aliyev?
- How are you working toward the implementation of the 2017 HRC resolution, especially in regard to retaliation against human rights lawyers?
Human Rights House Foundation also calls on Hungary to ensure that lawyers can exercise their duties without interference, fear of retaliation or threats when defending migrants. The most recent legislative proposals, dubbed “Stop Soros” by the government, threatens using criminal law sanctions and prison terms against individuals, including human rights defenders who provide assistance, including legal representation, to asylum-seekers in Hungary. The proposals challenge the very essence of the right to receive information about the law and the respect for due process, the right to seek asylum, as well as the ability of NGOs as well as individuals to provide, with entirely lawful means, assistance to foreigners seeking asylum. By threatening individuals who provide crucial assistance to vulnerable people, the government is, in fact, showing its will to silence dissent and disregard European and international norms.
This statement also enjoys support from the following organisations:
Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre /Azerbaijan
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Hungarian Helsinki Foundation
Legal Education Society/Azerbaijan