Allied Bar Association: Disappointing Trends of the Recent Weeks
Published on October 10, 2023
Last summer, we published an article on our website dedicated to the evolving landscape of friendship between Belarusian and foreign attorneys. The article stated that there were no prospects for the development of international cooperation between the Belarusian Republican Bar Association, bar associations of developed countries, and international bar associations until reforms in the Belarusian legal sphere took place. We suggested that an attempt would be made to redirect such cooperation toward authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. In March, we outlined this new direction - the East - with Uzbekistan considered the most promising state for the Belarusian side.

However, over the past few weeks, the bar association of the Russian Federation has been increasingly featured in the news of the Belarusian Bar. This inclusion pertains to both the so-called Union State and "international" conferences. In this article, we will summarize the recent trends, however, without drawing premature conclusions.

We would like to believe that the steady flow of news regarding the deepening relationships with the Russian legal profession is a consequence of the limited choices available for international cooperation within the Belarusian legal profession, and not an indication of any integration processes.

'International Conference': Belarus and Russia are the only participants
The Belarusian Republican Bar Association's news about the October 6 conference begins with a "lightning" emoji. Indeed, given the limited number of foreign bar associations willing to cooperate with the Belarusian Bar Association, "international" conferences are a rare occurrence. This time, only two countries are represented: Belarus and Russia. The conference focuses on the topic of "Advocacy in the Union State of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation" and addresses current issues in the field of advocacy. According to the Belarusian Bar, there are "over 200" participants, including representatives from 30 Russian regions. The number of Belarusian representatives is not specified.

Belarusian Bar Telegram channel features over 20 posts dedicated to the conference, with most being quotes or reminders that the conference is ongoing (!).

Before the event, there were reports about the visit of the Russian delegation to Belarusian collegiums. A meeting of the International Union of Attorneys was also held as part of the "international conference" for attorneys from Belarus and Russia. If you were unaware of this organization's existence, it "brings together attorneys from CIS countries, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldova, as well as attorneys and bar associations from various regions of the Russian Federation". The organization's goals and objectives include the "promotion of internationally recognized principles and standards of advocacy, the ethical foundations of advocacy, and ensuring the independence of attorneys." They aim to protect the rights, freedoms, honor, and dignity of their members. However, we could not find any press releases or statements on the organization's website regarding violations of the right to practice law and guarantees of independence in Belarus and Russia.
In her welcoming speech, Svetlana Volodina, President of the Federal Chamber of Attorneys of Russia, acknowledged young Russian and Belarusian attorneys, saying, "We are proud of you, and we are not just here to walk ahead of you. You must take the lead and know that you can rely on us. We will always support and protect you," she emphasized.
We'd like to direct the reader's attention to the following article. In this project, we have compiled information about the prosecution of attorneys in Russia for taking an anti-war stance or defending participants in actions against a full-scale military invasion of Russia in Ukraine.
Deputy Minister of Justice Nikolai Starovoitov addressed the participants, stating, "The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus guarantees the right to professional legal protection for every citizen of the country. Only the bar association has the privilege of implementing this guarantee. This demonstrates the high level of trust the state places in the institution of advocacy. Today, the bar serves as a bridge between the state and citizens in resolving the most pressing issues that are vital for ensuring social and political stability and shaping the legal culture and legal awareness of the people." According to the Deputy Minister, Belarusian attorneys should have a profound respect for the law since the advocacy, while being a liberal profession, is restricted by ethical standards. Nikolai Starovoitov added that individual attorneys are harming the reputation of the bar through their misconduct.
N. Starovoitov serves as the Chairman of the Qualification Commission under the Ministry of Justice and is known for his statements suggesting that "some attorneys have chosen the path of seeking power." This may be related to their provision of legal assistance to citizens attempting to exercise their electoral rights. He has also made calls to counteract providing assistance to victims of administrative repression on a charitable basis for a symbolic fee of one ruble, as well as threatened to impose higher taxation on attorneys for providing such assistance.
Minister of Justice Sergey Khomenko opened the conference with the following words: "I am convinced that the primary quality of a modern attorney is the readiness to defend not only an individual or an organization but also the constitutional system, legality, and public order." This isn't the first time the Minister has made statements that contradict widely accepted bar standards and international principles regarding the role of lawyers, which, among other things, prohibit state interference in the activities of the bar by the Ministry of Justice.

The "international" aspect was still present at the conference, where Belarusian and Russian lawyers discussed sanctions, or rather, the ways of 'confronting' them Alexey Shvakov, chairman of the BRCA, observed, 'Our countries are facing unprecedented pressure in the international arena; illegal economic sanctions are being imposed on us, leading to significant difficulties in monetary transactions". Details of the role of the legal profession were not discussed.

Alexey Haloganov, Vice-President of The Russian Federal Bar Association, Head of the Lawyers' Chamber of the Moscow Region, President of the International Union (Commonwealth) of Advocates, noted that attorneys from both countries 'have much to discuss, including the protection of human rights, professional development, and other mutual concerns and ideas.' He added, 'There is much we can learn from one another.'

During the conference, Hrodna Region Bar Chairman Vadim Cherepitsa presented his report on the popularization of the legal profession. Referring to the Concept of Development of the Belarusian Legal Profession up to 2030, he acknowledged "a quantitative decrease in the national legal corps, in particular due to the insufficient influx of young professionals to the republican bar". (Further information about the reluctance of specialists to align with the bar and the 'negative growth' in the number of lawyers in Belarus is available here: the use of certification to persecute attorneys, the initiation of criminal cases against attorneys for their professional activities, and the worsening conditions for legal practice).
Discussion Platform for Young Attorneys
Young Belarusian and Russian attorneys gathered at the dialogue platform at the National Library in Minsk on October 5, one day prior to the commencement of the main conference.

* In the photo: Olga Kalina, Chairman of the BRCA Council of Young Attorneys
According to N. Starovoitov, the hall was filled with 'true patriots of their countries who love their homeland and are therefore committed to contributing to its prosperity.' Emphasis was placed on the patriotic education of the youth.

The meeting was also attended by Alexander Lukyanov, First Secretary of the BRSM (the Belarusian Republican Youth Union) Central Committee. He noted that 'in recent years, there has been an increase in cooperation with the BRSM in training specialists and fostering their patriotic education.' Key topics on the agenda included discussions on 'preventing violations related to the use of prohibited symbols and collaboration.' Lukyanov elaborated, saying, 'These issues are what our Western adversaries often attempt to exploit, and our shared humanitarian space allows us to develop legislation that effectively inoculates our younger generation against the use of deceptive technologies.' However, the specifics of these 'non-deceptive' technologies, the nature of the 'legislative inoculation' for the youth within the shared humanitarian space, and the details of what Secretary Lukyanov was referring to remain unclear to us. It is hoped that the young attorneys participating in the discussion were able to grasp the full meaning of Lukyanov's statements.
Another international event: Bryansk and Gomel
In early October, members of the Gomel Regional Bar Association participated in a conference in Bryansk. Despite being attended by representatives from only two countries, the event was labeled 'international.' The theme was 'Protection of professional rights of attorneys: problems, solutions, prospects.'

At the conference's opening, it was stated that 'there are no serious problems in the field of protecting colleagues' rights in the [Bryansk] region.'
The conference covered the types of violations of professional rights of lawyers, circumstances that increase the risk of violation of lawyers ' rights, issues of maintaining lawyer secrecy, violations of the interests of the legal community. It is noteworthy that Alexey Artyukhovich, Chairman of the GOK, also made a report, telling his Russian colleagues about topical issues of protecting the rights of lawyers in the Republic of Belarus. Unfortunately, the public domain does not contain more detailed information about the content of the report, however, it is unlikely that Artyukhovich mentioned the mass (four lawyers at a time) revocation of the licenses of lawyers of the Gomel Bar Association, the lack of attempts by the GOK to restore the rights of lawyers who were deprived of the right to a profession for protecting political prisoners by applying repressive There is no certification mechanism that contradicts the international standards of the legal profession; it is unlikely that he mentioned the six lawyers who are imprisoned for practicing law.

The conference addressed various topics, including types of violations of attorneys' professional rights, factors that increase the risk of these violations, issues regarding the maintenance of attorney-client confidentiality, and breaches of the legal community's interests. Notably, Alexey Artyukhovich, Chairman of the Gomel Bar Association, presented a report. He informed his Russian counterparts about current issues in protecting attorneys' rights in the Republic of Belarus. Regrettably, more detailed information about his report is not publicly available. However, it's unlikely that A. Artyukhovich mentioned the mass revocation (involving four attorneys at once) of licenses from members of the Gomel Bar Association, the Association's lack of effort to reinstate the rights of attorneys who were barred from their profession for defending political prisoners, or the use of a repressive and internationally non-compliant certification mechanism. It is also doubtful that he referred to the six attorneys currently imprisoned for their legal practice.
Instead of a conclusion
The 'international' conference held in Minsk has become the main event discussed in the official discourse of the Belarusian legal community. This event unfolded amidst news of the forced shutdown of the independent Russian project 'Advocate Street,' another round of certifications by the Belarusian Ministry of Justice, the barring of six attorneys from their profession, and the labeling of political prisoner and lawyer Alexander Danilevich as an extremist, among other developments. Discussions at the conference only briefly touched upon issues regarding the independence of the legal profession and the protection of attorneys' rights. The primary focus, however, was on the 'patriotic' education of attorneys and strategies to circumvent the sanctions imposed on Belarus and Russia, sanctions that partly stem from systematic rights violations of attorneys in their professional roles and as citizens expressing their views.

At the conference, there were declarations of a shared space, the deepening of cooperation, and the existence of certain practices within the legal profession from which both Belarusian and Russian colleagues could learn. However, what precisely these practices entail — be it the designation of attorneys as foreign agents, the inaction of self-governing legal bodies, the widespread revocation of legal licenses, prosecution for anti-war stances, or the criminal prosecution of defense attorneys in high-profile cases — remains a matter of rhetorical speculation.
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