This newsletter informs you on recent activities and ongoing situations related to the ICJ’s work on the independence of the legal profession.
Why Sri Lanka should not be allowed to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Every two years, the leaders of the Commonwealth of Nations assemble at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the association’s principal policy and decision-making forum. This year, the meeting is set to take place in Colombo from 15 to 17 November, where the Sri Lankan Government will host the illustrious gathering.
The International Commission of Jurists considers that allowing the Government of Sri Lanka this privilege sends a deplorable signal to the international community at large and in particular to the governments of the member states of the Commonwealth: that they can disrespect its fundamental values on the rule of law and human rights without fear of censure. In the absence of a credible commitment based on action, not just words, from the Government of Sri Lanka to these core principles, the members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – the body that deals with serious or persistent violations of the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration – should place the issue on the agenda of their next meeting, with a view to ensuring that the CHOGM is held outside Sri Lanka.
Last January, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the removal of Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, following deeply flawed proceedings that wholly disregarded international standards of due process and fair trial. Dr Bandaranayake’s impeachment marked a further serious deterioration in judicial independence and the rule of law in the country. Indeed, this episode is only the latest in a long story of politicization of the judiciary and lack of respect for its independence, set against a backdrop of chronic impunity for gross human rights violations, as documented inter alia in the recent ICJ report Authority without Accountability.
In January 1971, at the conclusion of the first CHOGM, the assembled heads of government committed to the principles of human dignity and equality in the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles. Since then, Commonwealth Member States have recommitted numerous times to democracy, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, placing them front and centre as shared, fundamental values of their association. Will they live up to their ideals? The time to do so is now, when those ideals are put in such jeopardy by one of its members.
Guatemala: Trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez
Ongoing: The ICJ has been observing the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, who stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges arise from systematic massacres of the indigenous population carried out by Guatemalan troops and paramilitary forces during Montt’s 17-month rule in 1982-1983. It is the first time that a former Head of State is prosecuted for genocide in a national court.
Kazakhstan: Seminar on the independence of the legal profession in Central Asia
28 – 29 March: The ICJ held a roundtable seminar in Almaty to discuss the independence of bar associations and problems faced by lawyers in working independently and effectively. Lawyers from all five Central Asian countries attended the seminar.
Council of Europe: Presentation on corruption and the rule of law
20 March: The ICJ presented its views on corruption and the rule of law at a hearing of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. The presentation in particular addressed the importance of a strong and independent judiciary in combating corruption and the need to prevent judicial corruption through measures that promote and support their independence and impartiality.
Pakistan: Attack on Peshawar courthouse
18 March: The ICJ strongly condemned a suicide attack on the Peshawar court complex on 18 March. The ICJ considers an independent judiciary — free from violence and threats of violence or intimidation — to be a basic precondition for a functioning democracy under the rule of law.
Uruguay: Fact-finding mission on the independence of the judiciary
12 – 16 March: The ICJ undertook a five-day mission to Uruguay to gather information concerning recent developments affecting the independence of the judiciary in the country, also addressing the impact of these developments on the exercise of the right of victims to effective remedies and reparation for human rights violations.
Guatemala: Course on the prosecution of international crimes in the national legal system
11 – 18 March: The ICJ implemented a 30-hour course on the prosecution of international crimes in the national legal system, with the participation of over 30 judges and legal advisers of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. The course has been incorporated into a programme on “The International Criminal Court”, which the ICJ will continue to implement in coordination with the Escuela de Estudios Judiciales del Organismo Judicial.
On 21 March, a workshop on the same topic took place with the participation of 25 prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office.
Nepal: ICJ calls on Chief Justice to step down as judge after appointment as Prime Minister
14 March: The ICJ called on Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi, under whose leadership the Supreme Court has demonstrated a strong commitment to upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights, to relinquish his position on the Supreme Court after his appointment as the country’s interim Prime Minister.
UAE: Blatant disregard of the right to a fair and public trial
12 March: The ICJ condemned the blatant disregard by the United Arab Emirates of the right to a fair and public trial after its international observers were prohibited from attending the first two hearings of criminal proceedings against 94 individuals, including judges, lawyers and human rights defenders. Together with consistent and credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and the denial of full access to defence counsel, serious doubts are cast on the fairness and outcome of the process.
Lesotho: Fact-finding mission on the independence of the judiciary
4 – 7 March: The ICJ organized a fact-finding mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho, following the judicial crisis arising from a reported conflict in the leadership of the judiciary that resulted in the paralysis of the Court of Appeal. The mission was followed up by further interviews. The ICJ will make concrete recommendations on possible remedies in a report that will be presented to the authorities of Lesotho.
Bangladesh: International Crimes Tribunal death sentence
28 February: The ICJ condemned the death sentence handed down against Delwar Hossain Sayeedi. The ICJ opposes the death penalty as a form of cruel and inhuman punishment and a practice inconsistent with the right to life. It also considers that the Tribunal does not adhere to international standards of fair trial and due process. The ICJ supports the rights of victims to seek truth and justice for the crimes committed in the 1971 Liberation War, although any such process must adhere to international law, including international human rights standards.
Moldova: Reforming the Judiciary in Moldova: Prospects and Challenges – Report
21 February: Following an ICJ mission in September, the ICJ and the Soros Foundation-Moldova launched a report that analyses the recent progress made in reform of the judicial system. Welcoming the legislative reform of the past year, the report warns that further measures are needed in practice as well as in law for those reforms to bring about real change.
Cambodia: Open letter to the Bar Association
21 February: The ICJ asked the Cambodian Bar Association to clarify its views on freedom of expression with respect to the country’s lawyers.
Myanmar: Seminar on prerogative writs under the 2008 Constitution
14 – 15 February: The ICJ, in collaboration with the Office of the Attorney General of the Union of Myanmar, held a two-day academic seminar to discuss and contribute to the application of the recently re-introduced prerogative writs. Attended by around 40 public prosecutors and judges, the seminar allowed the ICJ to gain deeper insight into current practice and permitted the Office of the Attorney General to draw best practices from other countries.
Kazakhstan: Legal Opinion: Disbarment proceedings
13 February: The ICJ presented a legal opinion on the possible withdrawal of the license of lawyers Raziya Nurmasheva and Iskander Alimbayev of the Almaty City Lawyers Collegium. The case raises issues of international law and standards, particularly the country’s international obligations to protect the role of lawyers and their right to a fair hearing.
Tunisia: Enhancing the Rule of Law and guaranteeing human rights in the Constitution – Report
1 February: The ICJ released a report analysing the constitutional reform process in Tunisia and setting out recommendations for legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring a Constitution that reflects international law and standards. The ICJ calls for the Constitution to be amended to: fully guarantee the separation of powers; ensure accountability of the security services and armed forces and their subordination to a civilian authority; bring the judicial system in line with international standards of independence, impartiality and accountability; end the use of military courts to try civilians and all cases involving human rights violations; incorporate a comprehensive Bill of Rights; recognize the right to life as an absolute right and abolish the death penalty; and provide effective mechanisms for the protection of human rights and ensure the right to a remedy and reparation.
Nepal: End political interference in the case of Dekendra Thapa killing
30 January: The ICJ called on the Nepali Government to ensure that the case of the 2004 killing of journalist Dekendra Thapa can proceed without further political interference.
Sri Lanka: Judges around the world condemn impeachment of Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake
23 January: The ICJ sent an open letter, signed by senior judges and eminent jurists from around the world, to the Sri Lankan authorities, condemning the removal of Chief Justice Dr Bandaranayake as unconstitutional and in contravention of international standards on judicial independence. It called on the Sri Lankan Government to reinstate her.
Suriname: Unacceptable delays and uncertainty in Bouterse trial
22 January: The ICJ expressed its concern over further delays in the trial of President Desiré Delano Bouterse and 24 others, who stand accused of the murder of 13 civilians and two military personnel in 1982. Furthermore, the ICJ expressed its dissatisfaction with the continued uncertainty regarding the applicability of an amnesty law that could threaten the status of the trial.
Guatemala: Expert visit and workshop on international principles applicable to international crimes
21 – 25 January: The ICJ undertook a five-day mission in Guatemala, inter alia to attend a hearing at the Supreme Court of Justice in the proceedings against Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, who are on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The mission also met with the members of the Highest Court on Constitutional Law and the members of the Supreme Court, to discuss international principles of law applicable to amnesties in cases of gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law, and the implementation of protective measures for judges and magistrates in charge of cases of transitional justice. The ICJ undertook four workshops on the international principles applicable to international crimes with the participation of a range of justice sector operators, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers.CIJL NewsletterNews