Human Rights Defence Not So Easy Elsewhere

By McCall, Shelagh | The Scotsman, July 2, 2018 | Go to article overview

Human Rights Defence Not So Easy Elsewhere


McCall, Shelagh, The Scotsman


E ach time I get to my feet in court, no matter the type of case, the last thing on my mind is the possibility I might be in danger, other than perhaps from a few withering comments from the bench of course!

In Scotland, lawyers are fortunate that, when we take up the challenge of defending human rights, we do so in a mature legal system that respects the rule of law. We will not lose our jobs for speaking up for the vulnerable. We will not be imprisoned for challenging the State. We will not be sanctioned for seeking to hold the powerful to account through the courts. For many around the world, standing up for human rights is not so easy.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration was a significant moment in human rights history because, for the first time, it gave international recognition to the right of individuals, acting on their own or in association with others, to be free to protect and promote human rights.

Human rights defenders come in all shapes and sizes. They may be lawyers, journalists, community leaders, writers and artists, NGO workers. In many countries, human rights defenders are victims of violence, intimidation, harassment, smear campaigns and surveillance. Latest global figures suggest more than 300 human rights defenders are murdered each year, often with impunity. At the beginning of June, as a result of the increased pressure faced globally by human rights defenders and civil society, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders joined with the Chairs of UN Treaty Bodies to call on States to boost protection for human rights defenders.

All of this matters to us here in Scotland. The UN Declaration emphasises not only the right to promote and protect human rights, but also the responsibility to do so. It is a responsibility on all of us, working collectively. So what are we doing to play our part? The Faculty of Advocates has a long history of supporting international human rights and the rule of law, and today we continue that tradition by launching the Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award. We want to honour those human rights defenders who achieve remarkable outcomes in the most challenging of circumstances. They often act on behalf of local communities and victims of mass human rights violations in areas of armed conflict, social unrest, persecution of minorities or environmental conflicts. …

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