Human rights advocates are increasingly facing frivolous legal proceedings as a way to discredit their work and impede their activities. The Justice Defenders Program observes trials and other proceedings to discourage the misuse of legal processes against defenders and provides technical assistance to local counsel representing defenders.
See below for examples of the Program's public work on fair trial rights.
The Justice Defenders Program observed the trial of Mr. Ny Chakrya, the former head of Human Rights and Legal Aid section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the former Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Commission. Mr. Chakrya was charged with defamation, slander and interference with the independence of the judiciary because of press conferences he gave, while still with ADHOC, requesting an investigation into the Investigating Judge and Prosecutor for procedural irregularities and lack of independence.
Drawing upon an analysis of the court’s judgment and the Center’s observations of the evidence presented during the trial, the Center’s staff have concluded that Konan’s guilty convictions were not based on the required standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Konan seems to have been held criminally liable for the acts of violence committed by others in violation of the requirement of individual criminal liability.
After observing several of the hearings in the cases against Jorge Acosta, an Ecuadorian workers’ rights advocate and coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC, Center staff attorneys concluded that the criminal proceedings against him have been characterized by several serious irregularities. The Center staff further concluded that there are grounds for concern that officials may be using criminal proceedings against Mr. Acosta to intimidate and silence him in violation of his right to a fair trial as well as his right to the freedoms of association and expression. (English) (Español)
The Justice Defenders Program issued a joint report with the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights and Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute on threats against indigenous communities in Guatemala. The report documents the misuse of pre-trial detention, hate speech, frivolous criminal proceedings and violent threats against human rights advocates working to ensure community participation in decisions regarding large-scale industrial projects in traditionally indigenous territory.
In the wake of violent attacks on marginalized communities in India in 2018, the Maharashtra police arrested several activists and lawyers who historically advocated for the rights of these communities. A preliminary review of the judicial records by the Justice Defenders Program raised serious concerns of procedural irregularities, abuse of process, and violations of fundamental human rights. Several United Nations’ (UN) experts on human rights have expressed concern that the arrests and charges were brought in retaliation for the defendants’ legitimate human rights work.
On December 13, 2019, Delhi police responded with force to a reportedly non-violent protest that was occurring at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, India. At the end of February 2020, the Indian police charged Ms. Safoora Zargar, a protest volunteer and research scholar at the university, with causing disturbances during the protests. The ABA Center for Human Rights produced a preliminary report on her ongoing detention and called on the Indian Supreme Court to immediately grant her release.
On June 23, 2020, Ms. Zargar was granted bail. She remains charged under the Unlawful Activities Protection Act (UAPA).
Professor Michael Newton, a Justice Defenders Program volunteer, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Peru arguing that the prosecution of indigenous leaders for alleged misconduct during social protests should be handled in local courts, not arbitrarily moved to a special court in the capital, far from the location of the incident in question.
The Justice Defenders Program asked pro bono lawyers to prepare a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Swazi human rights activist José Marcos Mavungo. Mr. Mavungo was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to six years in prison for organizing a demonstration on human rights violations and bad governance in Cabinda Angola. The UNWGAD’s opinion ruled that José Marcos Mavungo’s arrest and detention were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights standards. The UNWGAD called on the government of Angola to immediately release José Marcos Mavungo and grant him compensation. Mr. Mavungo was subsequently released.
The Program continues to follow the case of human rights lawyer Tito Magoti and Informational Technology expert Theodory Giyani. From its onset, the case has been marred by procedural irregularities that have implicated Tanzania’s international legal obligations to promote and respect the right to a fair trial, the right to be free from arbitrary detention, and the right to freedoms of expression and association. The Center concluded that it is imperative that Magoti and Giyani be immediately released pending trial and the charges against them carefully reviewed to determine whether there is a basis on which to proceed.
A Legal Analysis of Tanzania's Anti-Money Laundering Laws Under Regional and International Human Rights Law
This legal analysis finds that the automatic denial of bail for enumerated crimes under Tanzanian law runs afoul of fundamental rights under regional and international law. This analysis further finds that the government of former President Magufuli misused its power to charge individuals with non-bailable offenses, especially the crime of “money-laundering,” as a tool to target and intimidate human rights defenders and journalists.