A group of solicitors working to support the defence of human rights worldwide is looking to increase its support in Scotland

The Solicitors’ International Human Rights Group (SIHRG: www.sihrg.org) exists in order to encourage solicitors and members at all levels of the legal profession to participate in the defence of human rights worldwide, particularly where members of the legal profession and other human rights defenders are persecuted or in danger for their activities.

SIHRG works in partnership with Peace Brigades International (PBI: www.peacebrigades.org) and its Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, on which this article focuses. SIHRG supports human rights lawyers overseas by conducting related missions, research, campaigns and training, or by making representations to national authorities, regional and UN bodies. It also holds monthly speaker meetings and runs training courses for solicitors and others on human rights procedures (including UN). There are working groups on regions of the world (the Americas, South Asia, Africa, former Soviet Union) and thematic groups.

The Group has a close working relationship with the Law Society of England & Wales. It holds the majority of its meetings in London. However, it is intended that a regional sub-group will soon be based in Birmingham. A similar group could exist in Scotland.

PBI volunteers provide protective accompaniment to local human rights defenders living in areas of conflict and whose lives and work are threatened as a result of their work. They are currently protecting human rights defenders in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Nepal.

Linked to PBI, the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk draws on the expertise and resources of the British legal profession to link with lawyers at risk abroad, helping to protect them and promote their work. Members of the Alliance can give their support in various ways such as:

  • establishing a direct link with individual lawyers or legal organisations in need of protection;
  • participating in fact-finding delegations to affected countries;
  • voicing concerns in specific cases of danger;
  • assisting in the preparation of submissions to governments and amicus curiae briefs;
  • advising on the review of codes and legislation to ensure their compliance with international legal standards;
  • helping with the training of local lawyers, including producing training manuals or helping them to access local support.

SIHRG together with the Alliance and others has had several meetings with lawyers and human rights defenders from the countries mentioned, resulting in written interventions leading to their enhanced protection, which enables them to continue their important work.

In Mexico, for example, PBI and SIHRG met with human rights lawyer Alba Cruz from Oaxaca state. We learned about the serious threats and harassment she was suffering, which increased when she began representing Marcelino Coache (a trade unionist and social activist who was at also at risk of attack and arbitrary detention).

SIHRG wrote to the state authorities asking that they provide adequate protection for Cruz and thoroughly investigate the allegations of threats and harassment. We also asked them to ensure that Coache is not arbitrarily detained or subjected to an unfair trial. We understand that Cruz has not been the subject of further threats, but on 29 November 2011 Coache received a death threat. PBI will continue to monitor this case and if necessary SIHRG will take further action.

A further example is David Ravello Crespo, a senior member of a human rights organisation based in Santander province, Colombia. In February 2011, in response to Crespo being the subject of a second wrongful prosecution and arbitrary detention and he and his family receiving threats, SIHRG submitted an urgent action to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. It also wrote to the Colombian authorities asking, among other things, that they provide adequate protection for Crespo and his family and investigate the allegations of threats and harassment against him. They were also requested to ensure that all available evidence is rigorously examined by the court and that he is afforded the right to a defence. The Constitutional Court has recently ruled in favour of Ravello, leading to some of the evidence previously excluded being admitted at the forthcoming trial.

Scottish solicitor Simon Crabb is also currently in Colombia with PBI. Simon and SIHRG are very keen to get others from Scotland involved in the Alliance.

By joining SIHRG or the Alliance, whether as an individual lawyer or through your firm, chambers or other organisation, you will be expressing your support for the work exemplified above. It is hoped that lawyers from Scotland may consider joining one or both organisations and consider setting up a regional SIHRG group. PBI and SIHRG have volunteers who assist with interpreting and translating.

The Author
Lionel Blackman, Solicitors' International Human Rights Group For further information about the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk and its application form please visit: www.peacebrigades.org.uk/country-groups/pbi-uk/alliance-for-lawyers-at-risk For further information about SIHRG and an online application form please visit www.sirhrg.org
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