This newsletter informs you on recent activities and ongoing situations related to the work of the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
Introduction to the first CIJL newsletter
Welcome to the first newsletter of the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL). The CIJL is a programme under the ICJ. The CIJL carries out country studies, high-level missions and legal interventions. It continually monitors institutional and legislative developments at a national level. And it seeks to mobilize the international legal community to protect judges, lawyers and prosecutors who are at risk for exercising their professional duties. Please read about the CIJL here.
The newsletter will be published about four times a year. The IN ACTION section describes recent activities (e.g. missions, trial observations) initiated by the CIJL and other ICJ programmes for the protection of judges and lawyers worldwide. The MONITORING ALERTS section describes ongoing situations requiring continuous monitoring by the CIJL and other ICJ programmes. Click on titles to read the full story.
7 to 15 September 2011: High-level mission to assess the state of the Rule of Law in Pakistan after the restoration of constitutional order in 2008, following the Lawyers’ Movement. While concluding that many of the problems created by military dictatorships appear to have been meaningfully addressed, the mission noted the persistence of tensions between the elected government and the military establishment. Concern was raised on abuse of power within the administration of justice and on the Supreme Court’s filling the void left by a weak Parliament and Government, potentially upsetting the balance of powers. Persisting problems with the nomination of judges was also stressed. Lastly, the mission focused on the use of suo motu proceedings: while their use as an instrument to promote the Rule of Law and protect fundamental rights is commendable, some of these proceedings give rise to concern in respect of their administration.
5 to 6 December 2011: The second CIJL Geneva Forum of Judges and Lawyers. The focus was on the role of lawyers and bar associations in establishing and strengthening democratic institutions in countries in situations of political transition to democracy. The discussions addressed the challenges facing the legal profession in these countries, with the purpose of identifying priority needs and sharing lessons learnt from the past. Following the ‘Arab Spring’, the Forum primarily considered issues in the MENA region, with speakers from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia sharing their knowledge and expertise.
19 to 21 December 2011: Fact-finding mission on the arrest, detention and trial of Mr Askarov, a prominent human rights defender in Kyrgyzstan. In the view of the ICJ, threats to lawyers, witnesses, judges and the constant use of torture against the defendants seriously undermined the possibility of the proper administration of justice in the case. The prolonged severe ill-treatment, attacks against lawyers, fear of witnesses to testify, undermining of the presumption of innocence and failure to ensure equality of arms and the right to an effective defence in court, among other irregularities, raise serious concerns that the trial as a whole failed to provide a fair trial and may have resulted in a denial of justice.
24 to 31 January 2012: ICJ President Professor Pedro Nikken and Commissioner Belisário Dos Santos Jr. observed the hearings held before the Supreme Court of Spain in the trial of judge Baltasar Garzón (the ‘Historic Memory’ case). The mission found that the trial sets a dangerous precedent regarding access to justice for the victims of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime and more generally regarding the conduct of national courts around the world, as judge Garzón’s trial for criminal malfeasance has implications that reach far beyond Spain’s borders. National amnesty laws and statutes of limitations do not apply to international crimes and the investigation of human rights violations can never constitute a crime; trying a judge for interpreting and applying international law is tantamount to sanctioning him for discharging his professional duties.
The ICJ presented a third party intervention in the case of Kudeshkina v. the Russian Federation (No. 2) before the European Court of Human Rights. The intervention focuses on issues of jurisdiction of the Court, on the right to reparation, and on freedom of expression and the judiciary.
8 to 12 May 2012: Trial observation mission to the trial of President Bouterse and 24 others before a specially designed Military Court in Boxel; they stand accused of the murder on 8 December 1982 of thirteen civilians and two military officials, all opponents of the regime. The CIJL conducted on-site interviews with the main stakeholders and attended the hearing on 11 May, which centred on the motions filed by the defence and the prosecution pursuant to the adoption of amendments to the Amnesty Law in April.
Between 27 and 31 August: High-level mission to Honduras (ICJ Commissioner José Antonio Martín Pallín, Salvadorian lawyer and former Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights María Silvia Guillén, and Director of the ICJ’s Central America Regional Office Ramón Cadena). The issue was the election of the Consejo de la Judicatura y de la Carrera Judicial. The mission forms part of the ICJ’s work on the mechanisms of selection of judges and magistrates, which should guarantee their ability and integrity, being guarantees for judicial independence, access to justice and the fight against impunity.
The ICJ has expressed its concern over the dismissal of judge Todorova, on the grounds that she was responsible for delays in a number of cases that came before her seven years ago. The ICJ considers that the case against Judge Todorova may involve a misuse of the judicial disciplinary process to remove a judge due to her publicly expressed concerns at government interference with judicial independence. We have called on the Bulgarian authorities to ensure a fair appeal process and to take steps to protect the judge, as well as other members of the judiciary, from harassment or intimidation.
The ICJ has called on the United Arab Emirates’ authorities to end their crackdown on human rights lawyers and defenders, a number of whom have been arbitrarily detained without charge. The ICJ says the crackdownforms part of a broad campaign of intimidation and harassment aiming to silence any and all critical voices.
The ICJ has urged the Syrian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish, a prominent human rights lawyer and defender, and expressed concern over reports that he will be prosecuted before a Military Field Court, which does not meet international standards of independence or fair trial.
The ICJ has deplored the unilateral decision by the Tunisian Minister of Justice to arbitrarily revoke the mandate of over seventy magistrates. The decision, taken without regard for fundamental procedural safeguards, reinforces the old practice of illegal political interference in judicial affairs and demonstrates the need for a provisional independent organ to oversee the judiciary in the transitional period.
The CIJL has urged the authorities in Djibouti to end the persecution of human rights defenders and judicial actors in the country, expressing particular concern on the case of judge Souleiman, who was arrested, detained at a secret location, allegedly tortured and denied access to a doctor or lawyer. He was removed from the bench and faces criminal charges related to the exercise of his judicial functions, having ordered the release of 40 political opponents of the regime whose arrest and detention he considered arbitrary.
The CIJL remains concerned about the ongoing detention of judge Afiuni for acts in the exercise of her function as a criminal judge, as well as the arrest in May of her lawyer Mr José Amalio Graterol. We continue to call upon the authorities to ensure judge Afiuni’s immediate liberation and a fair trial.