Releases of 6th Annual report on the harassment and persecution of judges and lawyers

Today, the ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers released its sixth annual report on the harassment and persecution of judges and lawyers. The report covers the period from June 1993 until December 1994.

The report, entitled Attacks on Justice, catalogues the cases of 572 jurists in 58 countries who have suffered reprisals for carrying out their professional functions. Of these, 72 were killed, 3 were “disappeared”, 28 were attacked, 119 received threats of violence, 24 were tortured, 177 were detained, and 149 were professionally sanctioned or obstructed. The report also analyses the existing legal structures and the prevailing human rights situation in various countries of the world, as they effect judicial and legal independence.

Attacks on Justice clearly demonstrates that in too many countries of the world, violence against judges and lawyers continues to escalate. This violence has been carried out not only by governments, but also by opposition groups, guerrilla, and para-military groups.

The following brief examination of some country-situations illustrates the range of issues covered in the report.

In Algeria, militant Islamist groups appear responsible for the killing of scores of civilians since 1992, including 27 judges and lawyers. The government passed anti terrorism laws granting wide power to the police, and establishing special courts. The identity of the judges before these courts is concealed and the right to defence is restricted. The appointment of lawyers in cases before the special courts is subject to the final approval of the President of the Court.

Violence in Colombia has claimed the lives of 32 jurists, 13 others received threats, and 1 was attacked. Violence is carried out by the armed forces, paramilitary, or insurgent groups. The government cites violence against judges to justify its creation of public order courts. In such courts, the identity of the judge is also concealed. The prosecution may request that the witnesses and their testimonies be kept secret. Such courts are said to be used against drug-traffickers and insurgents. In practise, however, many cases before these courts are cases of non-violent social protest against students, peasant leaders or small cultivators of coca. Although, the newly elected president of Colombia made specific promises to improve the human rights situation in the country, the CIJL believes that the Colombian human rights situation will only improve if the level of impunity is reduced.

While the regular judiciary is highly regarded in Egypt, there is concern about the existence of State Security and Emergency Courts there. The appointment of judges before these courts falls outside the regular judicial appointment process. Members of the military may serve as judges. The procedure before these courts is often criticised as violating the right to fair trial. The State of Emergency Law grants the government wide powers to detain individuals and search places without warrant. Following an increased campaign by Islamist groups to attack civilian and government targets since 1991, hundreds of suspected militants have been brought before military courts composed entirely of military judges. There is no appeal of the decisions of these courts.

In April 1994, Advocate Abdel Harith Madani died whilst in police custody within 24 hours of his arrest. The government announced that he died from an asthma attack. The autopsy report has not been released however. To date, the result of the investigation has not been announced. The death of Madani intensified the friction between the Government and the Bar Association in Egypt. A number of lawyers were beaten and arrested following an attempted demonstration by the Bar on 17 May 1994.

In Italy and France, judges investigating political-financial corruption cases were subjected to pressure. Since 1992, revelations of pervasive corruption at the highest levels of Italian industry and politics have destabilised the country. The events have brought down government after government, discredited traditional political parties and forced a political overhaul. The Italian judiciary has been the driving force behind the investigation of crimes of corruption. In November 1994, Judge Di Pietro decided to investigate Prime Minister Berlusconi. On 6 December the judge resigned stating that he had been subjected to pressure from various sides. On 22 December 1994 Prime Minister Berlusconi resigned.

Also, in France, judges investigating sensitive cases of corruption have been subjected to pressure. The report documents the cases of 4 judges who were subjected to such pressure.

In Indonesia, the Constitution does not acknowledge the separation of powers. In reality, it is the executive which is dominant. Judges are supervised jointly by the Minister of Justice and the Supreme Court. In practice, the role of the Minister of Justice tends to endanger judicial independence. Judges are considered civil servants and as such they are required to be members of the Indonesia Civil Service Corps, an organisation chaired by the Minister of Home Affairs. The association requires its members to comply with its rules and policy guidelines. Such requirements undermine the neutrality of the judicial power. Also, several lawyers, members of the Indonesian human rights groups, were arrested.

In Iraq, the Revolutionary Command Council interferes in the administration of justice by promulgating decisions which have the force of law and hamper judicial independence and discretion. On 4 June 1994, for instance, the Revolutionary Command Council issued a decree introducing corporal punishment for the first time in the Iraqi legal system.

In Nigeria, a number of Decrees grant the government freedom from accountability and ousts the jurisdiction of the courts concerning government actions. The judicial system has been subjected to constant executive interference. Human rights lawyers have been detained for protesting the cancellation of the June 1993 elections, and were prevented from travelling. The government’s decision not to disclose the results of the elections was accompanied by contradictory orders on the issue from all courts in the country. The judiciary was thus polarised along political lines.

Peru passed a new constitution in December 1993 which permits the trial of civilians before military courts. Individuals suspected of “treason” are tried before such courts. The court is composed of one legally trained officer, and the other four members are active duty officers. In crimes of “treason” and “terrorism” the identities of the judges, prosecutor, and, in some cases even of the witnesses are not disclosed to the defendant. The terms “treason and terrorism” are loosely used. In many cases lawyers who defend those accused of such charges were, themselves, accused of treason or terrorism therefore identifying the lawyer with the cause of the client.

In Turkey, since June 1993, 4 lawyers were killed, 19 tortured, 35 detained, 1 attacked, and 21 professionally sanctioned. The Turkish reality is overshadowed by an internal conflict in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern part of the country. Under the state of emergency, which is declared in 10 south-eastern provinces, special courts are created. One member in such courts is a military officer. Broad anti-terrorism laws are used which incriminate non-violent actions such as making oral and or written statements regardless of the method, intention, and ideas behind them.

Lawyers who take up the defence of people before the State Security Courts in the area of Diyarbakir seem to be a special target. In a mass arrest, 16 lawyers were detained during a period of three weeks in November and December 1993 and charged under the Anti-Terror Law. They report to have been tortured while in custody. Lawyers, members of human rights groups such as the Turkish Human Rights Foundation and Association are also targeted.

In the United States of America, criminal defence lawyers are being sued by the Justice Department because they refuse to reveal the identity of the sources of their declared income to the Internal Revenue Service. The lawyers feel that revealing the names of their clients would violate the attorney-client privilege. Ninety lawyers out of the 956 who have refused to reveal the names of clients nation-wide, are being sued.

The report will be presented before the fifty-first session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

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