The ICJ is concerned by a recent series of attacks on lawyers in Kyrgyzstan, and called on the government to take urgent steps to ensure the security of lawyers, defendants and other participants in criminal proceedings.
The ICJ urged the authorities to ensure prompt investigation of the attacks and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
The attacks have been directed at ethnic Uzbek defendants in criminal trials related to the ethnic violence of June 2010, and at the lawyers who defend them. Law enforcement agents have failed to intervene to stop the attacks, which have taken place both outside and inside court premises.
“These acts of violence are particularly worrying as they are not isolated instances but have become a pattern, apparently tolerated by law enforcement agents. This has created an atmosphere of fear and impunity where the criminal justice system cannot operate fairly or effectively,” said Wilder Tayler, Secretary-General of the ICJ. “It is an obligation of every state that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference as provided by the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
The same principles guarantee that “where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they must be adequately safeguarded by the authorities,” Mr. Tayler added.
The latest cases include an incident on 12 October 2010 in Jalalabad city when two people who alleged that they represented an unnamed political party visited the Justice human rights organisation, made threats and demanded that the lawyers of the organization involved in trial defence should “sit quietly”.
On 13 October, near the Osh City Court, a crowd attacked the defendant, his relatives and the lawyers who were trying to rescue the defendant; and on 14 October, in a military garrison building, two lawyers were attacked by people with metal sticks. These cases are only recent examples of a series of attacks related to court hearings.
The first such incident was reported on 29 August when a lawyer was attacked during a court hearing after he requested that allegations of beatings in the courtroom cell for defendants, by people in military uniform, be recorded and investigated.
The attacks have led in some cases to lawyers’ refusal to continue rendering legal assistance, and reluctance to invite or question witnesses. Fear of violence against lawyers or their families has seriously inhibited lawyers’ ability to provide an effective defence to their clients.
These incidents must be seen in the broader context of widespread impunity for the perpetrators of acts of ethnic violence amounting to crimes under international law, which took place in June 2010. It is a matter of concern that the investigations opened in respect of the events of June 2010 are predominantly directed against ethnic Uzbeks.
The way forward must now be an independent international investigation in line with international standards, which considers abuses committed by all those involved in the conflict, without regard to ethnicity or nationality.
The ICJ highlighted the need for an increased security presence both in court buildings and in the vicinity of trials, and for security personnel to be adequately prepared, equipped and capable of providing protection.
An example of good practice is one recent case in Nooken district of Jalalabad Region, where lawyers were escorted to and from the hearing. This indicates that protection can be effectively guaranteed in practice.
Whenever it is not possible to ensure safety and security of participants, trials should either be suspended or additional measures of protection such as changing the place of the hearing should be considered.
For further information: Róisín Pillay on +41 22 9793830 or Temur Shakirov on + 41 22 9793832
Kyrgyzstan-attacks lawyers defendants-press release-2010 (full text in Russian, PDF)