Syrian human rights lawyer under threat

The ICJ urges Syrian authorities to end the harassment of a prominent human rights lawyer, Haythem Al-Maleh, whose only crime was the lawful and proper representation of an individual engaged in political opposition to the current regime.

The transcript of this intervention follows:

31 July 2002

H.E. Mr Bashar al-Assad
President of Syrian Arab Republic
Presidential Palace
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic

Dear Sir,

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consists of jurists who represent all the regions and legal systems in the world working to uphold the Rule of Law and the legal protection of human rights. The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL) is dedicated to promoting the independence of judges and lawyers throughout the world.

The ICJ/CIJL has received information indicating that on 4 June 2002, Haythem Al-Maleh, a lawyer and Director of the Syrian Human Rights Association, was barred by the Damascus Lawyers Disciplinary Council from exercising his profession for a period of three years. Mr Al-Maleh was unable to attend his hearing, as he had left the country on 3 June. His request on 30 May for an adjournment had been denied by the Disciplinary Council. In a subsequent development, Mr Al-Maleh received a notice on 28 July to appear before the Syrian Military Prosecutor for investigation. The notice indicates that if Mr Al-Maleh does not appear, he will be detained.

The Disciplinary Council held Mr Al-Maleh’s misconduct to be constituted in statements he had made to the press in defense of two clients, Mamun Al-Homsi and Riad Seif, the latter a well-known political opponent. These public statements were alleged to contravene the bylaws of the Lawyers Union (bar association) on the basis of a law enacted in 1980.

We would like to call to your attention under Principle 28 of the 1990 United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which provides that

Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject to an independent judicial review.

The ICJ/CIJL is concerned that the Disciplinary Council is not an independent or impartial body, as the Minister of Justice maintains supervisory authority over this body.

We would further remind you that the UN Principles make explicit that governments must guarantee lawyers the right to be free from harassment while carrying out their duties (Principle 16). In addition, “lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their function” (Principle 18).

In apparent contravention of the UN Principles, Mr Al-Maleh has been identified with his client and his sanction is alleged to be a direct consequence of his undertaking this representation.

Finally, I should like to recall that pursuant to Article 14 (1) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a party, “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” A Military Prosecutor, outside of its ordinary jurisdiction over infractions by military personnel, plainly does not constitute a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. It is therefore of some concern that Mr Al-Maleh should have received notice to appear before the Military Prosecutor. In this regard, we would note that the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations of 24 April 2001 on the report submitted by Syria, expressed concern as to the numerous allegations it had received “that the procedures of military courts do not respect the guarantees laid down in article 14 of the Covenant..” (UN Doc. CCPR/CO/71/SYR, para. 17).

The ICJ/CIJL asks the relevant Syrian authorities review the situation of Al-Maleh with a view to ensuring that he is able to practice his profession without harassment and improper identification with his clients. In particular, the ban on his practice should be lifted and his summons before a Military Prosecutor rescinded. In addition, we would urge that your Government give consideration to reforming the law so that, consistent with international standards, the Lawyers Union operates independently and without official control or interference.

Yours faithfully,

Louise Doswald-Beck

cc: Mr Nabil al-Khatib
Minister of Justice
Al-Nasr Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 11 224 62 50

cc: MrMuhammad Harba
Minister of Interior
Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 11 222 34 28

cc: Mr Nasser Qaddur
State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 311 332 06 86

cc: H.E. Ambassador Dr. Toufika Salloum
Permanent Mission of Syrian Arab Republic
to the UN Office in Geneva
Rue de Lausanne 72
1202 Geneva

AdvocacyOpen letters