March 09, 2021

Statement of Patricia Lee Refo, president, American Bar Association Re: Independence of legal profession in Belarus

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2021 — The American Bar Association expresses deep concern about the escalating attacks on the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession in Belarus. On Feb. 19, 2021, the Ministry of Justice disbarred four lawyers — Maksim Konon, Liudmila Kazak, Kanstantsin Mikhel, and Mikhail Kirilyuk — who have been providing legal services in politically sensitive cases, including to detained protesters and political opposition figures. All four had also publicly criticized the current government’s human rights record.

Unfortunately, these four lawyers are only the most recent to face retaliation and formal sanctions for fulfilling their professional duties. Since August 2020, Aleksander Pylchenko and Yulia Levanchuk were also disbarred by the Ministry of Justice in connection with their public statements on rule of law matters in Belarus. In addition, it has been widely reported that lawyers Maksim Znak, Illia Sallei and Liliya Vlasova are facing national security and tax evasion charges as retribution for providing legal counsel to or associating with other advocates who spoke against the widespread human rights violations that occurred in the wake of the August 2020 elections. 

The ABA calls upon the government of Belarus to comply with its obligations under international law to refrain from retaliating against lawyers for fulfilling their professional obligations. A free and independent legal profession is vital to ensure access to justice and accountability for human rights violations and threats to the rule of law in any society. The ABA further calls upon the government of Belarus to drop all administrative and criminal prosecutions against the lawyers who have been politically targeted in violation of local and international laws, to release those lawyers being held in detention, and to reinstate rescinded law licenses to allow these lawyers to fulfill their professional obligations under established international and local laws. 

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.