Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada

INTRODUCTION

A lot of organizations and committees in the world work with the sole aim of preventing the violation of human rights. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” [UDHR], “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” [ICCPR], “International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights”, etc. contain the provisions which seek to promote human rights in all the countries of the world.  Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada [LRWC] also functions with the similar objective. It is an association of lawyers of Canada which has the objective of promoting and protecting human rights and rule of law in the world.

OBJECTIVE AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE OF LRWC

Around the globe, people are engaged in activities which are a sheer violation of human rights and threaten the liberty and rights of the human rights activists and advocates. Whenever anyone, not having a good position in the society, raises their voice against human rights abuse, they are silenced or intimidated which is again against the laws. The criminal offences which violate human rights are increasing by leaps and bounds.

Gail Davidson, the Founder of LRWC said, “Those of us who practice law in safe environments such as Canada owe a duty to those who risk not only their freedom but also their lives in order to protect their clients’ rights.” LRWC is a non- profit society which came into force on June 8, 2000 in accordance with the provisions of the Canada Corporations Act. The motive of LRWC is the application and administration of the standards which have been designed internationally in order to protect the human rights around the globe.

Both “Lawyers Rights Watch Canada” and “Lawyers Rights Watch (Legal Research) Canada” are formulated in accordance with the provisions of “the Canada Corporations Act”. The Statement of purposes as specified on the website of LRWC are:

  • To support the ones who are working in field of prevention of human rights abuse and protecting their rights and liberties.
  • To enhance the spread and promotion of rights of the activists and advocates of human rights.
  • To conserve and promote the “Rule of Law”.
  • To promote “fair trial rights” amongst governments and other institutions which includes the rights of “independent advocacy” of the lawyers.
  • To spread awareness and motivate the enforcement, ratification and compliance of international agreements and treaties which promote human rights and integral legal systems.
  • To invigorate the amendments in the Constitution and other legislations so that these conform to the international standards of human rights specified under several human rights’ conventions and promote the free rights and liberties of advocates of human rights.
  • To produce the research and analysis for the measures which are to be adopted for the purpose of protection of rights and “independent advocacy” of lawyers or other defenders.
  • To coordinate and work in cooperation with other institutions which advocate human rights and prevent its abuse.

FUNCTIONS OF LRWC

Group of volunteers manage and run LRWC and it is financed from the funds obtained through donations. Some of the prime functions of this committee are discussed as follows:

  • The committee organizes campaigns for the lawyers whose rights to carry out “human rights advocacy” are hindered, consequently targeting their autonomy and liberty.
  • It also functions to make the analysis and standards for national and international legislations which affect human rights and is helpful for the lawyers and other bodies working with the object of preserving human rights.
  • It coordinates with other bodies and organizations having similar goals.
  • It spots and works for the cessation of the illegal measures adopted by the human rights’ violators in order to stop or threaten lawyers from promoting human rights.
  • Another important function of LRWC is the introduction and execution of long term remedies.

LRWC’S SPECIAL CONSULTATIVE STATUS

“Economic and Social Council of the United Nations” [ECOSOC] is a United Nations body which works with the objectives of “promotion of higher standards of living, full employment, economic and social progress, identifying solutions to economic and social progress, identifying solutions to economic, social and health problems, facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation and encouraging universal aspect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Some non-government organizations which fulfill the criteria of having an exceptional proficiency and which work particularly for one of more objectives of ECOSOC, are rewarded with the “Special Consultative Status”. These bodies have a political connection with the United Nations. On July 21, 2005, LRWC was given the “Special Consultative Status” by the ECOSOC. As a significant aspect of United Nations conferences is the participation of NGOs, the ones which express their desire to participate and attend any international conference organised by United Nations and if the NGO has “Special Consultative Status” or “General Consultative Status”, then it is approved for participation. Some of the rights and benefits of having a “Special Consultative Status” with United Nations as mentioned under the ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 are as follows:

  • The rights to nominate the representatives of “United National Headquarters” in New York and the United Nations in Geneva and Vienna are provided to them.
  • These bodies can work as the consultants, advisors or specialists to the secretariat and can give their contribution in the programs and for attaining the objectives of United Nations.
  • The NGOs have to adopt the United Nations themes and enforce the programs and plans which are compiled by the United Nations.
  • The right to participation in the ECOSOC and its subsidiaries’ conferences are provided with the privilege to present “oral interventions” and “written statements” on the issues of these bodies.
  • To attend international seminars organised by UN General Assembly special sessions.
  • They have to pass on the statements of a maximum of 500 words at ECOSOC meetings and 1500 words at the meetings of subsidiary bodies.

MEASURES TAKEN BY LRWC

LRWC files written submissions in case they find violations or non-compliance of International Human Rights standards by any institution. Following are some examples in which LRWC took steps in consonance with the objectives of their committee:

  • Loopholes in British Columbia’s legal aid mechanism- In 2018, when LRWC became aware of the fact that legal aid of British Columbia has some glitches which are violating the Canada’s International obligations, they paid attention to this issue. It was noticed that the laws of British Columbia did not have any specifications about “right to legal aid” and it did not “ensure the right to appeal to those denied legal aid”. The submissions which provided the recommendations for British Columbia laws so that it fulfills the “International Human Rights Laws” are:
  • Formation of a “legal delivery model” which could guarantee “equality before law” without any sort of bias on any grounds like that of social, cultural, sexual, economic, etc.
  • Construction of a statutory body which is free from government controls and which can ensure fair hearing and legal aid in civil and criminal matters.
  • 33rd Session of the Council- In 2016, LRWC had presented the statement to the 33rd session of the “United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva” as it noticed government of Cambodia ignoring the rights of human rights defenders. The statement of LRWC requested to denounce the human rights abuse in Cambodia and “ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society.”
  • R v. Hape- It was held in R v. Hape, [2007] 2 SCR 292, 2007 SCC 26 at 55, that the position of LRWC is not only directory or compelling but it has a “force of law” in Canada. So it should not be the thinking that they just construe the domestic and international legislations related to human rights but presenting the “Canada’s international human rights obligations” which bind them is also the part of their work.
  • Statements to China- In 2015, the committee also wrote statements to the President Xi Jinping with respect to the matter of human rights abuse. The “coordinated campaign of harassment” was in force at that time which was violating the rights of lawyers and other advocates of human rights. Nearly 190 people got affected due to this and not only this, the practice was also contrary to the objective of the “Constitution of People’s Republic of China” and was infringing the obligations of China under “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, “International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights”, “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, “the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders” and the “UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers”.
  • Alberto Nisman’s case- LRWC also took actions when a Special Public Prosecutor named Mr. Alberto Nisman was murdered in January, 2015. He was going to provide some evidence regarding the “federal government cover-up” the following day. The LRWC was of the view that sufficient measures were not taken by the Argentinean Government to protect Mr. Alberto Nisman. Before even the completion of investigation, it was declared that the person has committed suicide. This whole incident is violation of “Rule of Law”, “Principle of governance” and is a sheer non compliance to the “international human rights norms and standards”. LRWC presented its submission so that following steps are taken by the Government of Argentina:
    • The Argentinean government is to set up an Independent Commission for purpose of directing an unbiased investigation in this case.
    • The government should also set up an autonomous investigation into the framework of protective steps taken by them in order to shield their prosecutors paying emphasis to the measures taken in Mr. Alberto Nisman’s case.
    • Also, the Argentinean government is to make a statement in public which should show its commitment with respect to looking into the matters of “Amia bombing” and the claims that the authorities are involved in crushing down the evidence and “improper investigation”.
  • Malaysia’s Sedition Act, 1948- LRWC has also written to some authorities including the Prime Minister of Malaysia. The LRWC was concerned due to the arrest of lawyers under Sedition Act, 1948 which is completely in contradiction to the laws of Malaysia and international obligations of Malaysia under the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and other customary obligations. It is against the “freedoms of expression, association and participative democracy”. The actions which are being expected from the government by LRWC and other organisations are:
    • To make sure that the “Sedition Act, 1948” is not hindering the “freedom of expression”;
    • To release all the advocates of the human rights abuse who were illegally detained;
    • To repeal the “Sedition Act, 1948” and;
    • To ensure that all the legislation of Malaysia are in consonance to its international obligations and human right protection treaties.
  • 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council- LRWC had also made a statement in the 27th session of “the UN Human Rights Council” in the year 2014 for raising the issues of “arbitrary detention, “disappearance of the human rights’ defenders” and “deprivation of liberty” which are in continuance with by taking the guise of “national security”.  It was urged to prevent the illegal detention of N. Surendran who is a lawyer and member of the Malaysian Parliament and to enforce the disappearances Thailand’s Kittisak Soomsri and several other “human rights’ defenders”. Also, it was urged to carry on unbiased and effective investigations to “refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities”.

CONCLUSION

The role of LRWC is increasing  internationally and it’s work has been applauded many times for paying heed to the systematic issues and paying more concern to the countries where lawyers; rights are threatened i.e. specially focusing on the countries such as Columbia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, etc.

The end goal of LRWC is to bring effectiveness in the justice mechanism by eliminating the processes and people who act as obstacles in the promotion of human rights. By protecting the rights and autonomy of the lawyers and other advocates of human rights, LRWC is working tremendously and efficiently for the development and promotion of human rights and for protecting and strengthening the pillars of the concept of “Rule of Law”.