The Law Society is set to use it’s UN special consultative status for the first time on Tuesday, to defend lawyers at risk in Turkey.
Turkey faces its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. The UPR is one of the key elements of the new Council which reminds states of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Law Society has made a submission along with Lawyers for Lawyers (Netherlands), and Rights Watch Canada, drawing the attention of the UPR to numerous human rights violations, especially those regarding the legal profession in Turkey. The main concerns outlined in the submission include the lack of guarantees for lawyers to perform their professional duties without interference and reprisals; abuse of legal proceedings against lawyers; interference with the Istanbul Bar Association; lack of protection against harassment and attacks on lawyers; improper identification of lawyers with their clients or their client’s causes; violation of the right to confidentiality in relation to communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients.
As an example, in June 2013, 45 lawyers were arrested at a courthouse in Istanbul, who were present to show solidarity with and to act of behalf of Gezi Park demonstrators. 3.5 million people took part in thousands of protests across Turkey which began initially following the violent eviction of a peaceful sit-in protest at the park. A video published online by Milliyet TV shows the lawyers, in their court robes, being roughly handled; some having their hands strapped behind their backs before being dragged on to a police bus.
A similar case in 2000, that saw 30 lawyers arrested, was found to have violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by the European Court of Human Rights in February 2014.
For the last two years the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee has, along with lawyers from a number of other countries in the EU and the US, been observing the trial of 45 mainly Kurdish lawyers who have been on trial in Istanbul, Turkey.
There are sadly plenty of examples when lawyers have faced interference.
As a side event to the UPR the Law Society and Lawyers for Lawyers are hosting a debate with a panel including a Turkish lawyer, a Turkish journalist and a number of UN officials, to discuss freedom of expression, privacy, confidentiality between lawyers and their clients and the protection of sources by journalists. The event comes at a time when the rule of law in Turkey is under serious threat.
Turkey has adopted new laws and judicial reform packages, allowing for even more internet censorship, data collection, surveillance and the censoring of critical views on the pretence of protecting national security, which are directly undermining freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights such as privacy. Journalists and lawyers are especially affected, often subject to surveillance and legal harassment. For both groups it is hard, if not impossible, to work freely, independently and securely.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: “It is a privilege that given our new UN special consultative status we are able to raise our concerns over lawyers at risk in Turkey on an international platform. The ability of lawyers to perform their professional duties without fear is not only a basic human right for the lawyers themselves, but is crucial to upholding the rule of law in democratic countries.”