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July 19, 2021

ABA Center for Human Rights, other legal groups denounce attacks on the Belarus legal profession

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 19, 2021 — The American Bar Association announced the launch of its joint report, “Lawyers Under Threat: Increasing Suppression of the Legal Profession in Belarus.” The report done in collaboration between the ABA Center for Human Rights, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, and Lawyers for Lawyers, analyzes 24 cases of retaliatory acts against lawyers who represent defendants in politically sensitive cases or publicly speak about human rights abuses in Belarus following the contested August 2020 presidential election.

The report finds that in seven cases, the government of Belarus arrested, detained, and prosecuted individual lawyers who appear to have been targeted for their work defending human rights, protestors, or opposition figures or for themselves being associated with the opposition or exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

In other cases, the report documents the disciplinary proceedings and the subsequent disbarments that have been used against lawyers who represent political opponents of the government or those who openly criticize the government on issues of public significance. The report also identifies cases where the Ministry of Justice’s Qualification Commission, in a series of arbitrary re-certification examinations, pressured and disqualified lawyers who appeared to be working on human rights cases.

“The ABA has repeatedly called on the government of Belarus to end the flagrant human rights abuses and adhere to its constitutional and treaty law obligations to ensure basic rights and the rule of law,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “Unfortunately, the government has only grown bolder in its attempts to silence critical voices.”

Lawyers must be able to carry out their professional obligations free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers further stipulate that governments must ensure that lawyers neither “suffer, [n]or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic[,] or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards[,] and ethics.”

“Lawyers play a vital role in the administration of justice, and in upholding the rule of law and the protection of human rights,” said Sophie de Graaf, executive director of Lawyers for Lawyers. “Their work is indispensable for the public confidence in the administration of justice and to ensure effective access justice for all. The role of lawyers in protecting the rule of law and human rights is all the more fundamental in the context of the current crackdown in Belarus. It is therefore of fundamental importance that the international legal community continues to support lawyers at risk in Belarus".

The authors of the report urge the government of Belarus to take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical safety and security of lawyers in Belarus; to immediately and unconditionally cease all acts of harassment against lawyers, including office raids, politically motivated investigations and prosecutions, extraordinary certifications, and disbarments; to reinstate the disbarred lawyers; and to repeal the recent amendments to the law on the legal profession.

Read the full report here.

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