Campaign announced to project jurists : 144 Judges and lawyers persecuted since January 1988

The ICJ today released a list of 144 judges and lawyers who have been harassed, detained or killed in 31 countries since the beginning of 1988.

The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, which promotes the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession in all parts of the world, presented the list to the United Nations Sub-Commission on human rights meeting in Geneva. The list included 34 lawyers and judges killed, 37 detained and 38 who had been attacked or threatened with violence in the last 18 months. In releasing the report, the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers called on the United Nations to monitor the protection of practising lawyers. At the same time, it announced that P.N. Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India, would head a world-wide campaign to defend judges and lawyers facing harassment or persecution. The Director of the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Reed Brody, stressed that the protection of human rights required that lawyers be free to take up all cases – even unpopular ones – without fear of reprisal.

Yet, he noted, “in all too many countries, lawyers risk their liberty and even their lives when they carry out their professional obligations. ” Many of the cases of violence listed in the report were carried out not by governments but by “death squads,” big landowners and drug traffickers. In almost none of the cases has the perpetrator of the violence been brought to justice. The Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers called upon governments to take measures to protect lawyers’ security and to investigate actively violence against lawyers.

According to the report: – In Colombia, at least 20 judges and lawyers have been killed, mostly by para-military groups, since January 1988. – In the Philippines, six human rights lawyers have been killed, while dozens of others have been threatened and harassed. In several cases, members of the armed forces are suspected of involvement or acquiescence. – In Brazil, hundreds of lawyers providing legal advice to rural workers in land and labour disputes have been harassed, threatened and even killed over the last decade, particularly in the north and northeast regions. Most of these attacks come from gunmen in the pay of large landowners.

In not one known case, however, has the guilty party been brought to justice. – In Peru, para-military groups have has assassinated two lawyers and threatened several others, making it very dangerous for lawyers to engage in human rights work. In the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and Gaza, 8 Palestinian lawyers, including several active in the defence of prisoners, have been detained without charge or trial by the Israeli authorities. – In Malaysia, the Supreme Court decided several important cases unfavourably to the government. This provoked the Prime Minister to launch public attacks in 1988 on the judges. When the Lord President (the senior judge) privately complained to the King, he was removed. Two other judges who tried to stop the removal were themselves removed.

Justice Bhagwati announced that the campaign will enlist support from regional and national bar associations to: a) persuade governments to respect the independence of the judiciary and to provide greater protection to judges and lawyers, b) press the United Nations to monitor such protection and c) intervene in cases in which judges or lawyers face harassment or persecution.

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