Lawyers: your right to the law, your right to rights.
A political regime can be measured by the importance it places on justice and the Bar.
In places where lawyers are harassed, threatened, arbitrarily arrested, convicted for defending their clients, and murdered, tyranny, corruption, insecurity, and injustice rules.
In places where lawyers can freely undertake their role, even to defend great offenders or political opponents, where justice and legal security prevail, allowing everyone to develop their activities with confidence and faith in the future. In these places, well-being remains.
However, human rights no longer seem fashionable. In many countries, dictators denounce them as symbols of Western civilisation and their imperialistic values. In Europe, voices are raised in criticism of the European Court of Human Rights, they denounce allegedly excessive requirements and they advocate for stricter policies (policies which they claim would be humane; however, no one would know their potential implications).
Is the championing of human rights coming to an end? Bars and Law Societies are unable to accept this. Bars and Law Societies have led the struggle for justice, mutual respect, dignity and solidarity in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’ is not only the motto of a great country, which sometimes tends to forget it. They are goals, never fully attained, which always need to be strived for. For all Europeans. For all humans.
Ten years ago, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe created its own Human Rights Award to celebrate those who, at the risk of their own lives or freedom, accept to undertake their mission of defence.
The list of winners, who have since been granted the Award, not only demonstrates the magnitude of the challenges that still need to be addressed so that our children may live in a fairer and more prosperous world, but also the courage of those lawyers who work daily to ensure access to justice for all, even those who ‘trouble’ governments.
These winners were Belgian (2007), Chinese (2008, 2015), Spanish (2008), Russian (2009), Mexican (2010), Tunisian (2011), Belarusian (2012), Turkish (2013, 2016), Brazilian (2014), and Azerbaijani (2015). But they could be Colombian, Venezuelan, Honduran, Burundian, Gambian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iranian, or from so many other countries.
The winner in 2017 was Georgian. Zaza Khatiashvili is the founder of the first lawyers’ union in Georgia and of the Georgian Bar Association. He was the first Georgian lawyer to bring and win the first case against Georgia at the European Court of Human Rights. He is one of those, who brought human rights where they did not exist before.
They are lawyers.
They work alongside men and women from around the world, giving them the strength to stand upright.
They are the honour of our profession.
Let us continue the struggle.