Lawyers and Judges Worldwide Risk Their Lives for Human Rights
FOR Guy Malary, law became a fatal occupation. On Oct. 14, the Haitian lawyer was murdered by gunmen widely assumed to be linked to Haiti's repressive military regime.
Three months earlier, Mr. Malary had been appointed Haiti's minister of justice by exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (who was deposed by the Army in 1991) under a United Nations-brokered agreement intended to restore Mr. Aristide to office.
On Oct. 5, Malary presented the Haitian parliament with a plan for a new police force under the control of the Justice Ministry, and he was taking steps to pave the way for Aristide's return and to curb human rights abuses.
But Malary's courage - and perhaps his miscalculation that international attention to Haiti's plight would protect him - cost him his life. The day after Malary's assassination, the country's military ruler reneged on his pledge to relinquish power.
Malary was just one of 30 lawyers and judges in 14 countries (see map) who were killed in 1993 for their work on behalf of human rights, according to a report issued yesterday by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York. In addition, more than 400 other legal professionals and 20 legal institutions in 50 nations experienced persecution ranging from imprisonment and torture to harassment and threats for their human rights activism, the report says.
As in four preceding years, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights released ``In Defense of Rights: Attacks on Lawyers and Judges in 1993'' on May 1, designated Law Day in the United States. ``The men and women who appear in [these] pages understand better than anyone that the ability of lawyers and judges to work freely and independently is a cornerstone of any society that claims to respect human rights and the rule of law,'' writes R. William Ide III, American Bar Association president, in the report's foreword.
Among the human rights violations documented by the report:
* In India, attorney Kulwant Singh Saini has been missing with his wife and young son since January 1993. Mr. Kulwant Singh provided legal aid to Sikh political activists in Ropar, Punjab. Rights observers attribute his disappearance to the Ropar police.
* Metin Can - a member of Turkey's Human Rights Association who represented Kurdish dissidents in southeast Turkey - and an associate were lured to torture and execution by a phony telephone call in February.
* Lt. Pierre Ikomo Bamala, a military judge in Kinshasha, Zaire, was murdered in June by soldiers loyal to President Sese Seko Mobutu. Judge Ikomo had been investigating charges of criminal activity by the military.
AMONG worrisome trends that emerged in 1993 were a significant increase in human rights violations against lawyers and judges in Guatemala and a sharp rise in attacks on legal professionals in Algeria and Egypt, where judges and lawyers are caught in an increasingly violent crossfire between Islamic militants and desperate governments.
Eight legal professionals were killed in Algeria in 1993. Only in long-violent Colombia did as many lawyers and court officials die in human rights violations.
Another trend the study identifies is escalation of human rights violations against entire institutions such as bar and judicial associations. Every criminal-court judge in Buenos Aires, Argentina, received anonymous threats in 1993. Nigeria's government repeatedly interfered with activities of the Nigerian Bar Association, and in Swaziland, a special government commission was set up to ``evaluate'' - in fact, to intimidate - Swazi magistrates.
According to George Black, editorial director for the Lawyers Committee, most of the reports of human rights abuses come from sources in the countries, including lawyers and bar associations, citizen watchdog groups, and other local organizations, as well as international groups like Amnesty International.
To protect the annual report's integrity, Mr. Black says, the committee employs ``quite conservative criteria'' for cases it documents and follows ``high standards of verification.''
``Bad reporting catches up with you,'' Black says. Over the years governments have challenged a few of the committee's accusations, he says, ``but we make very few mistakes.''
The grim report can be looked at in a brighter light, Black notes. For instance, rising death threats against judges in Guatemala ``are part of the good news, because they are a backlash against a functioning and increasingly effective judiciary.'' The report shows that human rights activism by lawyers and judges is intensifying around the world, Black says.