Revitalized Trial Observer Project Completes First Observer Mission
In July, the International Human Rights Trial Observer Project conducted its first trial observer mission since being re-instituted in 2001-02. The purpose of the Project, which the Section originally operated from 1984 to 1991, is to encourage government adherence to international fair trial standards and other human rights protections where lawyers and other human rights advocates are tried for activities involving such advocacy. The Project has been housed in the Section over the past year.
At President Robert Hirshon’s request, Richard N. Winfield, an experienced and respected trial lawyer and a partner in the New York-based law firm, Clifford Chance Rogers and Wells, LLP, served as the Association’s official representative at a July 11 trial hearing in Ankara, Turkey. The trial involves 27 defense lawyers charged with "misconduct of office" for allegedly "shouting slogans" and inciting resistance to security personnel during a December 2000 court proceeding in which the lawyers were representing prisoners accused of involvement in a prison riot. (Under the Turkish system, trials typically are conducted in an extended and unconnected series of hearings, rather than in a single, continuous proceeding over the course of days or weeks.) Winfield also met with government officials (including an official of the ministry of justice), the chief prosecutor, several of the defendants, and human rights organization leaders to ascertain the facts of the case in the fullest detail possible.
In August, Winfield submitted a report, including his observations, findings, and recommendations for further ABA action, to then-President Hirshon and to President-elect Alfred P. Carlton. In the report (available on the Section website at www.abanet.org/irr), Winfield provides a detailed account of the facts of the case and the proceedings. He concludes that the prosecution, which he states is characterized by a vague criminal statute, a baseless and conclusory indictment, and a virtually empty record, is consistent with the Turkish Government’s history of harassing lawyers who represent politically unpopular clients, as documented by the U. S. State Department and various non-governmental organizations. "By any measure," he concludes, the prosecution "fails the tests of fairness, proportionality, reasonableness and compliance with human rights protections contained in international conventions," including the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
President Carlton currently is considering the report’s recommendations for further ABA action.
For further information about the International Human Rights Trial Observer Project, contact Michael Pates, Project Director (tel.: 202/662-1025; e-mail Michael.Pates@americanbar.org).