During the Council of Bars and Law Societies’ of Europe (CCBE) Plenary Session on Friday 10 December 2021, the President of the CCBE, Margaret von Galen, announced the recipients of the CCBE Human Rights Award 2021. The Award has been granted to four Belarusian lawyers and to the endangered lawyers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also delivered a video message at the Award ceremony conducted during the Plenary Session.

The CCBE Human Rights Award is granted to recognise the exceptional efforts in upholding the highest values of professional and personal conduct in the field of human rights by one or more lawyers or to a lawyer’s organisations.


Belarusian lawyers

Following the recommendation of the CCBE Human Rights Committee, the Award was granted to Belarusian lawyers Dmitry Laevski; Leanid Sudalenko; Lilya Vlasova; and Maksim Znak for their outstanding courage and commitment in defending citizens’ fundamental rights and the rule of law in Belarus while risking their freedom and opportunity to practice. The four recipients are victims of judicial harassment due to their legitimate activities as lawyers. They are all currently prevented from exercising their profession with three of them currently in detention and the fourth having been disbarred.

Dmitry Laevski – is a prominent lawyer who was disbarred in July 2021. Laevski continues to espouse the merits of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, and the right to defence in Belarus. He also represented several political prisoners in court.

Leanid Sudalenko – is a human rights defender, activist and head of the Gomel branch of the Justice Initiative (which provides legal assistance to victims of human rights violations). Sudalenko was arrested in January 2021 on charges of “organising, financing, training and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities” and remains in detention.

Lilya Vlasova founded one of the first independent law firms in Belarus in 1990. Vlasova was arrested in August 2020 and remains in detention to this day despite protests from several international lawyers’ organisations.

Maksim Znak represented many clients in politically sensitive cases and was sentenced to 10 years in prison after one year of pretrial detention. He is still in detention since September 2020.


Endangered lawyers in Afghanistan

The CCBE decided to grant an additional Human Rights Award to all the endangered lawyers in Afghanistan. Following the recent developments in Afghanistan, the CCBE expresses its deep concern over the situation in Afghanistan, especially regarding women, human rights defenders, and those working in the justice sector, and in particular lawyers, judges and prosecutors.

The Afghan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) has about 5,500 members, with 25% of them being women (about 1375 female members). About 200 female lawyers are now faced with life-threatening risks in all Afghanistan based on their legitimate activities.

With this Award, the CCBE wishes to raise awareness in the international community of the urgent need to provide adequate protection to those endangered lawyers who are at the forefront of the defence of fundamental rights of Afghan citizens. The CCBE also wishes to emphasize the importance of the achievements made by the legal profession in Afghanistan for the protection of fundamental rights.

For more information on the situation of the legal profession in Afghanistan, please consult the following linked articles: