Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Defending human rights defenders

Haldane Society chair Liz Davies invites you to a conference seeking to build solidarity with those defending human rights across the world

February 16, 2012
3 min read


Liz Davies is chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She writes here in a personal capacity


  share     tweet  

Human rights lawyers in Britain may face the scorn of the Daily Mail and David Cameron, but we don’t get killed for our activities. Elsewhere in the world the decision to devote one’s professional skills to the defence of human rights means taking real risks – putting life, liberty, family and livelihoods on the line.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in the Philippines is committed to using legal strategies to stand up for the marginalised and oppressed – rural communities, workers, fishing communities, the urban poor, indigenous communities, political groups and human rights defenders. They are currently representing the families of two ‘disappeared’ students.

Part of that process has involved issuing a warrant for the arrest of retired major general Jovito Palparan, a fugitive who is avoiding prosecution and shielded by the authorities.

They represent the Morong 43, health workers who, while carrying out medical training, were accused of being members of the New People’s Army, arrested and detained in appalling conditions for 10 months without any trial. They are still fighting to clear their names.

An accusation that human rights defenders are really terrorists is just one of the weapons used by repressive states to silence their critics. But the NUPL finds itself defending its own members as well as its clients. Twenty-seven lawyers have been killed extra-judicially since January 2001.

Attorney Juvy Magsino of Mindoro, a vocal advocate against military abuses and mining projects, was riddled with bullets while driving her car. Attorney Tersita Vidamo was handling controversial land and labour disputes at the time she was shot.

Lawyer members of the NUPL were among the dead in the infamous Maguindanao massacre in November 2009 when 58 people including 34 journalists were killed by political opponents. NUPL secretary-general Edre Olalia says: ‘In the Philippines, the security forces pound on the lawyers, especially human rights lawyers.’

Human rights defenders from the Philippines, Dagestan, Belarus, Colombia, Palestine, Swaziland and Syria will be coming together at an event on 24 February, Defending Human Rights Defenders. Organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers in association with Amnesty International and European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights and supported by solidarity campaigns, the conference will consider extra-judicial killings, censorship, imprisonment and criminalisation.

The delegates will have an opportunity to share experiences and publicise their struggles. Most importantly, we will discuss how we can provide practical solidarity to all of our comrades who regularly challenge human rights abuses, and have to face the state acting with impunity.

While it is true that in mainland Britain, lawyers, journalists and other activists can stand up for human rights without fear of significant consequences, in Northern Ireland that was not the case. We remember our comrades Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, who were murdered for the crime of representing their clients, as well as journalists and other activists who lost their lives in defence of human rights. This conference is dedicated to their memories, as well as those we have lost around the world.

For more on the conference, see the website of the Haldane Society. A version of this blog post was originally published in the Morning Star.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Liz Davies is chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She writes here in a personal capacity


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright