Newsletter VOLUME 1 No. 7, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, May 2002

VOLUME 1 No. 7, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, May 2002


J.B. Jeyaretnam: Lawyer/Member of Parliament
(another triumph for the written word)

LRWC member / director Howard Rubin, as a joint representative of LRWC and Amnesty International, attended Jeyaretnam’s final defamation appeals July 2001. The dismissal of these two appeals resulted in Mr. Jeyaretnam being barred from sitting as a Member of Parliament and from practising law. LRWC provided a copy of Howard’s report to Ingeborg Schwarz of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU represents 142 member parliaments around the world. On 23 March 2002 at Marrakech, the Council of the IPU passed a resolution affirming that statements judged defamatory were a legitimate exercise of free speech rights and sharply criticizing the ‘clear intention’ to use defamation proceedings to silence Jeyaretnam and remove him from Parliament.

Ingeborg Schwarz thanked LRWC and said, “the [IPU] resolution draws,…largely on Howard Rubin’s trial observer report, which was instrumental not only in the decision to declare this case admissible but also to make it public.” (copies of the IPU resolution are available)

Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew who had been successfully suing Jeyaretnam for libel in the Singapore Courts since the 70s has filed a defamation suit in the Ontario Supreme Court against the Globe and Mail and former President Devan Nair claiming damages of $400,000.

Nepal 2
Liberia 2
Guatemala 3
Member Activities 3
Mexico 4
HRD Reports 5
Publications 6
Courses 7
Volunteers 7
Incorporation News 8

The 60th ratification occurred on April 11, 2002 and the Rome Statute comes into force on July 1, 2002. As of May 18, 2002 there are 67 ratifications. The International Criminal Court will not be in operation until some months later.


Saligram Sapkota, lawyer

Saligram Sapkota, President of the Bank District Appellate Court Branch of the Nepal Bar Association was arrested March 12, 2002 by 7 soldiers and was reported to have been beaten and perhaps tortured.

Catherine Morris (Victoria) wrote to the Prime Minister of Nepal and the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence asking that Mr. Saligram Sapkota be treated in accordance with the national and international human rights standards that are part of Nepalese law and in particular that he be given immediate access to a lawyer and a doctor, protected from further harm, and released. Catherine reminded the Prime Minister of the applicable law and of the assurances he made in a November 2001 speech that civil rights would be preserved in Nepal.

An additional bulletin reported that the Nepal Bar Association was first refused permission to visit Mr. Sapkota and then told that he was not in custody. Catherine Morris again wrote to the Prime Minister of Nepal and to the Chief of Army Staff and Ministry of Defence advocating for the safety and release of Mr. Sapkota and urging the Prime Minister and others to comply with the national and international law including the Constitution of Nepal.


Tiawon Gongloe, lawyer

Tiawon Gongloe, a leading Liberian human rights lawyer was arrested without charges on April 24 and believed to have been beaten while in custody. Amnesty International believes that his treatment was precipitated solely by his human rights advocacy. Constance Marlatt (Toronto) wrote asking the Liberian government to investigate those allegations of maltreatment and act to ensure the safety of Mr. Gongloe and other lawyers.

Tiawon Gongloe was discharged from hospital on 1 May 2002. The police put him in the charge of Archbishop Michael Francis, a prominent advocate of human rights and he was subsequently hospitalised for the injuries he received while in custody. Dato Param Cumaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers advises that Liberian lawyers are in need of assistance.


Ovidio Paz Bal, lawyer

Mr. Bal is the Legal Advisor of the Solola branch of the organisation Defensoria Indigena (Indigenous Defence). The threats against Mr. Bal (‘we are going to kill you, we are going to kill you’) were believed to have been made by individuals or groups seeking to hinder the work of Defensoria Indigena.

Constance Marlatt (Toronto) wrote to the President, Attorney General, and Minister of the Interior of Guatemala asking that the threats be thoroughly investigated and that Mr. Bal be given adequate protection.


Congratulations to Michael Jackson, LRWC director who recently celebrated the publication of his book, “Justice Behind the Walls: Human Rights in Canadian Prisons”, Douglas and McIntyre (Vancouver/Toronto) 2002.

Gail Davidson is representing Amnesty International in Bangkok Thailand in June 2002 at the extradition hearing of Cambodian Sok Yoeun. Cambodia has applied to extradite Sok Yoeun, formerly a member of an opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in Cambodia. Cambodian authorities have accused Sok Yoeun of being responsible for a rocket attack in Siem Reap Province in September 1998. The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees has granted Sok Yoeun refugee status and Sweden has offered him residence. Amnesty International believes that there is no evidence linking Sok Yoeun to the attack, and considers the allegations made against him by the Cambodian government to be politically motivated. Amnesty International has declared Sok Yoeun to be a prisoner of conscience.


LRWC and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) sent a joint team of lawyers to Mexico City March 11-18 to investigate and report on the progress and problems of the Mexican government’s investigation of Ms. Ochoa’s death and the assaults on and threats against her from 1996 until her death.

The LRWC/BHRC Mexico team was composed of B.C. lawyer John McAlpine Q. C. (for LRWC), British barrister Nicholas Stewart Q.C. and BHRC programme co-ordinator Kirsty MacDonald for BHRC. John and Nick interviewed government officials including the Attorney General’s lead investigator, human rights lawyers, and diplomats. From April 11-24 2002, Global Exchange, a San Francisco based international human rights organisation fighting for political, economic, and social justice, sent a ‘Defend the Defenders’ delegation to Mexico to assess the Digna Ochoa investigation. Global Exchange conducted further interviews of Ms. Ochoa brother and a former lawyer colleague on behalf of LRWC.

While the LRWC/BHRC team was in Mexico City the Attorney General’s office leaked to the press information supporting the theory that Ms. Ochoa committed suicide. In response, On the Front Line (a bulletin on human rights defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean) reported,

“Human rights organisation in Mexico and in other countries are concerned at this emphasis on the possible personal motives for the killing and at the failure to properly follow lines of investigation suggesting state involvement in the killing, including ensuring timely questioning of all state agents, including military officials, named in conjunction with the case.”

The government’s investigation has been criticized since its inception with giving unwarranted prominence to this theory and failing to adequately investigate more likely theories particularly theories implicating the military. LRWC and BHRC will produce a joint report and LRWC plans to continue monitoring the course of the investigation and perhaps returning to Mexico City in September.
(continued on page 6)


“Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: Human Rights Defenders”, the report submitted on 27 February 2002 to the UN Commission on Human Rights by Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of Secretary-General on human rights defenders identifies 34 human rights defenders killed, 8 on whose lives attempts were made, 10 disappeared and 7 tortured. Other offences against lawyers and other human rights defenders include intimidation, harassment, detention, arrests and prosecutions.

Ms. Jilani concludes her report by stating that “human right defenders continue to be at risk and face serious violations of their rights throughout the world. In this regard, situations of armed conflict and the militarization of States place human rights defender at even greater risk.” The Special Representative expresses her apprehension about developments arising from the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack in the United States. She also concludes that governments are the main perpetrators of abuse against human rights defender. “Impunity for the violation of human rights has become one of the most serious human rights problems and directly affects the security of human rights defenders.”

On the Front Line: Bulletin on human rights defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean, Vol. 6 No. 1 January-April 2002 reports that nearly 90% (30) of the murders of human rights defenders identified in Ms. Jilani’s report occurred in Latin America. On the Front Line points to the recurrent problem of the acquiescence, connivance and collusion of members of police forces in the perpetration of grave human rights abuses against human rights defenders, including the killing of human rights lawyers.

In Amnesty International’s 2002 report, Secretary General Irene Khan expresses concern at the post September 11 rush by both autocratic regimes and established democracies to restrict civil liberties in the name of public security and at the grave violations of international law in the name of fighting terrorism. Ms Khan observes that ‘human rights are not an obstacle to security and prosperity, they are the key.’


LRWC, jointly with the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) nominated Digna Ochoa for the 2002 Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize, an award given bi-annually by the Institute des Droits de l’Hommes du Barreau de Bordeux (IDHBB) in partnership with the UAE-Human Rights (European Lawyers Union) in memory of lawyer Ludovic Trarieux who, in 1898, founded the French League for the Defence of Human Rights and the Citizen in the midst of the Dreyfus affair. There were 12 nominees and Ms Ochoa was the only one from the Americas. Details of the prize and the IDHBB are on at The prize was awarded on May 23, 2002 to Iranian lawyer for the rights of women, Mehrangiz Kar.

In 2000, Gail Davidson jointly and the CJFE, jointly nominated Malaysian Parliamentarian, lawyer and human rights activist Lim Kit Siang for the IDHBB award. The award in 2000 went to Turkish writer, lawyer and human rights activist Esber Yagmurderelli, most recently jailed since June 1998.


Steven Kelliher, “Steps taken toward forming International Criminal Bar,” Lawyers Weekly, Vol. 21, No. 36, February 1, 2002, page 6.

Dagmar Dlab, “Canadian Lawyers Defend the Independence of the Bar in Malaysia,” The Advocate, Vol. 60 part 2 March 2002, page 227.

John McAlpine Q.C., “The Homicide of Digna Ochoa” The Advocate Vol. 60 part 4 May 2002.

Richard Gibbs Q.C., “President’s Message: No guts, No allegory”, Benchers’ Bulletin, a publication of the Law Society of British Columbia 2002: No. 2 March-April.

Upcoming Publications

Mexico Report


May 3-4, 2002, Vancouver. “State Terrorism and Crimes against Humanity in Contemporary Society”, a conference sponsored by the Lui Centre for the Study of Global Issues. Gail Davidson attended.
June 6-7, 2002, Montreal P.Q. Canada. International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association Conference. Steve Kelliher is attending for LRWC.
June 6, 2002, San Francisco. LRWC is invited to attend the Global Exchange Awards Ceremony. Human Rights Awards will be made to Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa and to Claudia Smith, founder of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.


September 2002, London England. International Bar Association Conference on the creation of a Code of Professional Conduct for lawyers appearing before the International Criminal Court in London England.
September 4-8, 2002, Abuja Nigeria. “Human Rights, Lawyering and the ICC.” The seminar will examine and assess the general role of lawyers in the articulation and enforcement of international human rights law with a special emphasis on their likely role with regard to the ICC.


Thanks to volunteers Xin Liu and John Fornelli

Xin Liu is doing computer organizing, databases design and is developing web site for LRWC. Xin practised law in China from 1994 to 1999 before moving to the U.S. to obtain her Masters in Computer Science from De Paul University.

John Fornelli formatted our newsletter.


David Mossop of Community Legal Assistance has completed the incorporation of a ‘sister’ society Lawyers Rights Watch (Legal Research) and is applying for a charitable tax number. The objects of the LRWC (Legal Research) are:

1. To do legal research on jurisprudence, national laws and international laws and standards related to the integrity of legal systems and the right of lawyers and other human rights defenders to engage in independent advocacy.

2. To make such research available to the public.

3. To provide public legal education on the above topics.

LRWC (Legal Research) Board of Directors

Paul Copeland Lawyer, Bencher, Law Society of Upper Canada, Gail Davidson, member of the Law Society of British Columbia, Tami Friesen member of the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario, David Gibbons Q.C., Bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia and William A. Schabas LL.B., Professor of Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland and distinguished author, lawyer and international human rights expert.

Richard Gibbs joins Board of Directors of LRWC

Richard Gibbs Q.C. Prince George lawyer and President of the Law Society of British Columbia is a new director of LRWC. Richard replaces Stephen Owen Q.C. M.P. who remains a LRWC member but resigned from the Board of Directors to avoid conflict with his duties as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. Stephen is now the Secretary of State Western Economic Diversification and Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada

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