Les droits de l'Homme et la défense de la Défense

Defense of the Defense - Speech at the Closing Ceremony of the UIA Congress in Florence

by Jacqueline Scott

Fortney & Scott LLP

This year’s Congress marked the end of a year in which much was accomplished by the Human Rights and Protection of Lawyers Committee. Over the course of this year, we have issued statements, press releases and letters supporting our colleagues in the legal profession. We have participated as speakers on panels to make our colleagues aware of human rights. We have, with the generous financial and moral support of the Magna Carta Foundation taken 5 missions – to Turkey to gather information and observe trials, to Colombia to participate in the Caravana, to the Democratic Republic of Congo to initiate a mediation and twice to Burundi, to gather information. Among other things, we also offered support and consultation to the Final Words project, an anti-death penalty project culminating in a book that codifies the names, crimes and last words before execution of Death Row inmates put to death in Texas. 

Yesterday, if you were fortunate to join us, you know that we had an exceptional full day, joint session between the Human Rights and Protection of Lawyers Committee and the Human Rights Commission, where we discussed pressing issues facing lawyers, judges, prosecutors and human rights defenders across the globe. 

In the morning, we heard from a remarkable panel on the attorney-client privilege, particularly with respect to searches and seizures of law offices and files and telephonic eavesdropping on attorney client communications, situations where lawyers are being targeted because of the particular identity of their clients. Representatives from Spain, Cameroon, France, Mauritania, and the U.S. demonstrated how the confidentiality of attorney-client communications worldwide is being threatened by state-authorized wiretapping, often in the name of politics or national security. We were especially fortunate to hear a riveting discussion led by Pierre-Olivier Sur, Bâtonnier of the Paris Bar, on the harrowing events surrounding the search of the offices and home of the former French President Sarkozy’s lawyer. We heard particularly how the Bâtonnier’s telephone conversation with that lawyer was recorded and how Bâtonnier Sur’s own telephone records were searched. The session was a stark reminder of the danger of such searches and seizures -- undermining the very foundation of due process, the attorney-client privilege and the independence of the legal profession – and of the need to be ever vigilant in protecting these rights. Finally, we shared an emotional exchange with our colleague, lawyer Basma Kalfaoui, and pledged to stand alongside her in her struggle against impunity after the assassination of her husband, well-known lawyer and activist, Chokri Belaïd. 

In the afternoon, it was our privilege to hear from an extraordinary panel of international stars, including Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession and Adrie Van de Streek, director of Lawyers for Lawyers -- both of whom work tirelessly to protect legal professionals and human rights defenders across the world and both of whom reminded us how important it is to struggle, even when our steps are small, because it is the drops, and not the waterfall, that break the stone. Elizabeth Sioufi, incoming President of the  Human Rights Commission, reminded us of the protections and obligations of lawyers, as set forth in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and Michel Carrie, Director for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights for the International Organization of La Francophonie, spoke about the work of his organization, supporting Bar Associations whose independence is threatened and sharing human rights information between more -and less- developed countries. 

Finally, we were honored and privileged to hear from this year’s Ludovic Trarieux prize winner, Mahienour El-Massry, who was just recently released from an Egyptian prison, in large part, because of this award. She is a remarkable young woman, and her passion, courage and unfailing commitment to Human Rights in the face of extreme personal danger is unparalleled. She is truly an inspiration.  

So, this Congress was definitely one of success and hope. Yet, in the same Congress, we learned of many new violations, including those against our colleagues in Saudi Arabia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. So, while our Congress comes to a close, our work does not. We will continue to support those lawyers, judges, prosecutors and human rights defenders who each day face peril simply because they choose to exercise their professions. 

Jacqueline Scott, UIA Co-director for Human Rights and Protection of Lawyers, Fortney & Scott LLP