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The UIA Bar Leaders' Briefing 2017

On June, 2 2017, more than 200 people participated in the UIA Bar Leaders’ Briefing at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland where major key figures from the UN system and renowned representatives from the civil society met to discuss two issues that drew the attention of the international community:

- Is the Rule of Law a necessity for keeping peace?

- The Responsibility of Lawyers and Bar Associations Towards Refugees

Open to all members of the UIA for the 90th anniversary of the association, the briefing distinguished itself by the quality and diversity of the speeches. It also led to many calls to professional associations and lawyers so that they could be involved more than ever in the defense and promotion of the interstate rule of law, and within the countries. Indeed, as asserted by Michael Möller, CEO of the United Nations Office, “Without the Rule of Law we cannot have peace, development or human rights. With it, we have a sustainable framework to meet the global challenges of today and tomorrow which have no borders.”

Through different speeches, the briefing was the opportunity to remind us that the rule of law is facing many threats today; the UIA has adopted the concept of rule of law as defined by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004. The multilateralism, which is necessary for States to meet the current challenges, is called into question as states increasingly insist on individualist behavior. Fundamental principles that were seemingly set in place, concerning refugees in particular, have now become susceptible to reconsideration. François Longchamp, President of the Council of State of the Geneva Township, warned against attempts, which may only be temporary, to weaken the principles on which democracy is based. In that sense, lawyers and bars have a political, professional and moral responsibility to defend the rule of law.

Because of conflicts and violence, the rise of populism and demagogy, and the failure of social fabric and public order, millions of people are forced to leave their home. If some stay in the country, others have to go beyond borders, thus becoming refugees.   

Through these basic principles on the role of refugees, the UIA hopes to alert lawyers and bars of their responsibilities and their critical role in defending and protecting refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

This crucial role was also emphasized by Volker Türk, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in the Office of the UNHCR, whether through their contributions to a strong and independent justice, capable of reminding the states of their obligations and ensuring that the interpretation of the law conforms with principles of international law and is consistent with different jurisdictions ; or by promoting the ratification of international tools for the protection of refugees and the stateless and the participation in debates about legislative initiatives concerning these groups ensuring respect for human dignity and human rights. He also invited lawyers to become active and innovative so that they would come up with new proposals in not only the legislative realm but also the construction of legal and judicial institutions that may respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.

Peggy Hicks, the UN Human Rights Office High-Commissioner Representative, reminded us that the history of migration is not confined to the history of refugees. She includes those who are forced to move because of extreme poverty, climate disasters, lack of access to a decent job, to educatison or care, or because they have been separated from their families. Regardless of the reasons that have motivated these people to move, according to international human rights law, each person should enjoy all of their human rights without discrimination. “Building systems and societies that respect migrant rights is not only what is right and smart to do, but also a legal obligation”.

According to Yves Daccord, Director-General of CICR, the phenomenon of migration led to a certain number of hypotheses. Migration is often introduced as a new phenomenon that is destined to disappear, but in fact, the novelty represents the extent to which Europe is affected: migration will not disappear. There would be a tendency to keep the issues out of the borders by building walls although it would be better to focus on the resolution of difficulties in the countries of origin that encourage people to migrate. Finally, there would be a trend to classify migrants either as victims or as risks even though they are humans who have needs and make strategic choices. He also called for a consideration of the situations of internally displaced persons and unaccompanied minors who are particularly at risk.

Jacqui Hunt of Equality Now focused on the fact that discriminations against women, a group particularly vulnerable in the context of migration, have significant consequences, especially when it comes to passing on their nationality in every aspect of family life, but they are also an important cause of statelessness.

According to Andrea Chmieliński Bigazzin, from the Siracuse International Institute, being a lawyer in the international context of the rule of law requires passion, knowledge, creativity and a bit of dreaming. Different concrete projects by lawyers or professional associations of lawyers were also presented during the briefing. Therefore, the European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) project, whose purpose is to support Greek lawyers who offer free legal assistance to applicants for international protection, was described by Philip Worthington, its project coordinator. Projects seeking to facilitate access to justice, restore the confidence of interstate institutions and empower people and communities to define their priorities and defend their rights, in which women have an important role, have been quoted by Amanda Rawls from ABA-ROLI.

As an international organisation bringing together lawyers of the world, the UIA has worked for 90 years to establish an international legal order founded on the principle of justice between nations, through the law and to maintain peace. With renewed strength and energy following this briefing, the UIA will respond to calls for action to support and defend the rule of law and to guarantee that the rights of everyone, including refugees, asylum seekers, forcibly displaced persons and migrants, are fully respected. The UIA invites you to do the same.


To see the photos of the UN Briefing, click here.

To see the photos of the dinner, click here.

To see the videos of the UN Briefing, click here. 

Save_Date_ONU_Geneve2017_EN_BD.pdf282.43 KB
2017_UN_BRIEFING_GENEVA_Programme_BAT.pdf319.28 KB

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