A new award to honour men and women overseas who champion human rights in the most challenging circumstances is being launched by the Faculty of Advocates.

The Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award will be presented every two years to someone from an organisation which is apolitical and who conducts only peaceful activities to promote human rights and the rule of law.

Latest figures suggest that around the world, more than 300 human rights defenders are murdered each year, and a survey found that fundamental human rights have diminished in two-thirds of 130 countries surveyed.

The winner of the award will be invited to Edinburgh for a week to share experience and expertise with members of Faculty and others who work to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights. It is intended that the inaugural winner will travel to Edinburgh in November of this year to receive the award.

Applications for the award will be scrutinised by a selection committee chaired by Lord Bonomy, the former Scottish judge who spent five years in The Hague as a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The judging panel will also include Professor Alan Miller, Special Envoy of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in Geneva.

Shelagh McCall QC, convener of the Faculty’s Human Rights & Rule of Law Committee, observed: “When Scottish lawyers take up the challenge of defending human rights, we are fortunate that we do so in a mature and well developed legal system that respects the rule of law. In many other countries, human rights lawyers are victims of violence, intimidation, harassment, smear campaigns and surveillance.

“Despite that, human rights lawyers and defenders achieve remarkable outcomes. They play a key role in upholding the rule of law by representing local communities and victims of alleged mass human rights violations in areas of armed conflict, social unrest, persecution of minorities or environmental conflicts.

“!t is important to recognise these achievements and the bonds of solidarity and respect that exist between lawyers globally who work upholding human rights and the rule of law.”

She added that it was a “particularly opportune” year to launch the award, being the 20th anniversary of the UN’s 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. 

“As the Declaration makes clear, the defence of human rights transcends borders and requires us all to work collectively with others around the world. We very much look forward to meeting our first winner and raising the profile of human rights in their country, offering advocacy training tailored to assist in their work, and enabling them to make contacts to help and support them in their work.”

Click here for full details and to apply. The text is also available in French and Spanish.