Belarus in the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

On April 22, 2022, the report of Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and
Lawyers entitled "Protection of lawyers against undue interference in the free and independent exercise of the legal profession" was published on the website of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and presented at the current 50th session of the Human Rights Council, which is taking place in Geneva from June 21 to July 8, 2022.

Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán addresses the issue of the protection of persons engaged in the practice of law and notes with concern a global increase in practices that undermine, limit, restrict and hinder the practice of law. 

The report, inter alia, reflects the persecution of Belarusian lawyers. The new Law on Bar and Advocacy is described by the authors of the report as " authorizing the Government to intervene in the appointment of the heads of bar associations and their governing bodies". Sad statistics are provided: At least 27 lawyers have been disbarred or suspended for speaking out against the recent wave of crackdowns in Belarus (according to the data at the time of reporting; now this number constitutes 60 persons – editorial). These actions, the report emphasizes, directly undermine the independence of justice and prevent lawyers from freely exercising their professional functions.

International solidarity and condemnation by international bar associations of pressure on lawyers is also reflected in the text of the report: in 2021, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe identified instances of physical and psychological abuse in 38 countries around the world, including Belarus, China, Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Philippines, and Turkey.

It is also mentioned that in 2021, the Qualification Commission on Issues of Advocacy in
Belarus revoked the licenses of five lawyers, allegedly for providing legal services to opposition leaders and peaceful protesters. This practice is described in the report as an attack on the free exercise of the legal profession and a disguised sanction.

Between 2020 and 2021, the Special Rapporteur received allegations of the use of coercion, detention, harassment and other practices against lawyers in connection with the lawyers’ legitimate performance of their professional duties in countries such as Belarus, Cabo Verde, the Russian Federation, the Philippines, Haiti, Kuwait, Pakistan, Romania, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe. There have also been reports of the continued criminalization in Belarus of lawyers and journalists, many of whom are charged with economic crimes or have had their right to freedom of expression restricted, for providing legal assistance to protesters, civil society activists or journalists of independent editions.

In the conclusive part of the report, the Special Rapporteur points out that disbarment constitutes a form of repression by the authorities against lawyers who defend human rights organizations or members of the political opposition or protesters and lawyers who advocate essential principles of the rule of law and human rights. Such arbitrary disbarments not only undermine the rule of law in general, but also violate the human rights of the disbarred lawyers and the fundamental principles that safeguard the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession.

The Special Rapporteur reminds the States of the need to take all necessary measures to ensure the free exercise of the legal profession, in all circumstances, so that lawyers may exercise their legitimate professional rights and duties without fear of reprisals and free from all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

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