HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Attacks on Lawyers are Attacks on the Legal Profession and
on Human Rights*
It should not be difficult to see that any attack on any lawyer should
have an impact on other lawyers in other countries. After all, we all
believe in the rule of law; in effective and independent legal
representation; in due process; in freedom, democracy and justice. Noble
words that can be achieved if those tasked to uphold them are free from
any attack on their lives, liberty and property.
Posted by Bulatlat
yourself as a lawyer who has been practising for more than 30 years but
now could not go to a court hearing without having to mind that you could
get shot on your way to court.
yourself as a lawyer who just stepped out of a meeting with clients to buy
milk for your little daughter but would not make it to her because you
would be shot while riding a public vehicle in a busy street.
Or as a
lawyer who cannot go to office or go home to your wife and kids because
strange men in motorcycles have been asking your whereabouts.
imagine yourself as a lawyer labelled by the military as an “enemy of the
state”; or that you get SMS messages that you should not go to court to
prosecute a case; or that you stop your work or else you will suffer the
same fate as others; or that you are blocked at a checkpoint on your way
to court; or that your car would be burned by unidentified men; or that
you have to change your mobile number several times because they are
Holland – except perhaps for the fact that it is not difficult to imagine
yourselves as lawyers as I have it on good information that everyone here
is a lawyer or attorney – these things may be unimaginable.
in my country, these attacks on lawyers do happen and are not part of our
privilege and honour, I come here upon your invitation to testify on what
is going on in a far away place half across the globe.
lawyers and judges
Magsino, counsel for progressive groups and local official vocal against
military abuses and mining projects affecting the people. Riddled with
bullets while driving.
Arbet Yongco, lawyer prosecuting a parricide case against a cult leader
belonging to a powerful family. Shot inside her house.
Felidito Dacut, counsel for unions and people’s organizations. Shot while
inside a passenger jeepney on his way to buy milk for his three-year old
Charles Juloya, lawyer for unions and political prisoners. Shot several
times in front of his law office. Survived but is still under threat.
Romeo Capulong, United Nations (UN) ad litem judge and foremost
human rights lawyer in the Philippines. Subjected to four separate
attempts on his life.
Henrick Gingoyon, judge handling a controversial case against the
government over an anomalous airport project and formerly counsel for
people’s organizations. Gunned down on New Year’s eve on his way home.
Jobert Pahilga, young lawyer for peasant organizations and the progressive
opposition. Subjected to intense surveillance and death threats.
have been 17 lawyers and 10 judges killed since 2001 for reasons related
to their profession. These attacks continue to this day and are but a
small part of the 755 civilians extrajudicially killed, 359 others who
survived, and 184 still missing.
these lawyers get attacked?
reasons for the attacks on activists, human rights workers, indigenous
people, farmers, workers, journalists, and church leaders by forces linked
with the government may be fully explained in another occasion.
the legal profession in the Philippines, most of the victims are those
that give their legal services to critics of the government or those who
work for reforms. They are the most effective, vocal and dedicated lawyers
who defend the rights of the poor and the oppressed as part of their duty.
A good number are also advocates for genuine reforms.
attacks are not new. There has been a long history since Martial Law of
Marcos. It is a denial of the right to effective and independent legal
counsel. Today, these attacks have reached a new height and impunity.
of the legal community
Believing that everyone is entitled to legal representation and that the
cause of the client should not be imputed to counsel, various responses to
these attacks have arisen, both local and international.
ourselves formed the Committee for the Defense of Lawyers or CODAL, now
called the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties.
the Dutch legal community
linked by a member of your host Haarlem Bar Association to a foundation
called Stichting Advocaten voor Advocaten. It supports lawyers
under attack especially those involved in human rights so that they can
exercise their profession without interference.
Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (in cooperation with the Dutch Lawyers
without Borders: Advocaten Zonder Grenzen and the IADL) went
on a fact-finding mission to the Philippines to investigate the reports on
The mission confirmed a pattern in the harassment and killings of human
rights lawyers and understood these in relation with the other killings
and attacks in the Philippines.
Indeed, the attacks undermine the rule of law and erode faith in the
courts and the independence of judges and lawyers.
mission report called “From Facts to Action” was received very well in the
Philippines, here and abroad. Of course, the Philippine government,
especially the police and the military have reacted strongly and called
the members of the mission fake lawyers.
incidents happened since then: another serious assassination attempt on a
respected senior lawyer, the threats on two women people’s lawyers, and
the labelling of key members of CODAL.
advocates, we face these threats and hardships while we perform our duties
to our clients, to the profession, to the courts, and to society.
shall overcome and we carry on.
of these attacks to the Dutch bar
should not be difficult to see that any attack on any lawyer should have
an impact on other lawyers in other countries. After all, we all believe
in the rule of law; in effective and independent legal representation; in
due process; in freedom, democracy and justice. Noble words that can be
achieved if those tasked to uphold them are free from any attack on their
lives, liberty and property.
attacks on our fellow lawyers mean the attack to the independence of our
profession. This independence is what we are taught, trained and practice.
Though not as dangerous to life and limb like in my country, the same
principle remains here.
an attack on any lawyer in the exercise of his profession is an attack on
me, on you and the legal profession.
important that the worthy initiatives done by your colleagues here will be
supported in useful ways; that further action be taken; and that you will
stand with us to stop these attacks on the profession, on human rights and
to life itself.
you the warmest solidarity greetings from my colleagues who continue to
carry on despite these challenges, the relatives of the victims who find
comfort in the concern shown by your colleagues, and my people who
continue to struggle for democracy and justice.
Congratulations to your Congress, best wishes to all of you and we hope
there is “music” in advocacy not only in the Netherlands but also in the
Philippines and elsewhere.
Posted by Bulatlat
Presented before the Annual Congress of the Dutch Bar Association Haarlem,
The Netherlands; 29 September 2006
U. Olalia is International Officer of the Counsels for the Defense of
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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