LRWC Newsletter: April – May 2016 Edition

LRWC Action News and Updates | LRWC at the UN Human Rights Council | LRWC & the Organization of American States | Notable ArticleAnnual General Meeting | LRWC Members Contributing Pro Bono in April and May

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Canadian delegation calls for justice for Berta Cáceres

From 12 to 22 April, LRWC participated in a Canadian delegation to Honduras and Ottawa to call for justice for renowned indigenous land rights defender Berta Cáceres after she was assassinated in her home by gunmen on 3 March 2015. The gunmen also attempted to murder Mexican human rights defender Gustavo Castro Soto. LRWC is among many organizations calling for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Berta Cáceres, who founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), worked to defend the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) over hydroelectric and mining concessions in Lenca territory, including a project of DESA (Desarrollos Energéticos, SA), an energy company involved in building a dam on indigenous Lenca land without FPIC. Before her death, Ms. Cáceres had received death threats after an altercation with DESA employees, soldiers and police during a march.

LRWC member Catherine Morris was among seven persons in a delegation from Canada organized by Mining Watch Canada to attend an International Peoples Gathering, “Berta Cáceres Lives” in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 13-15 April. The delegation included three indigenous leaders from Canada, an activist from Quebec, and a videographer. The gathering included thousands of indigenous peoples from all over Honduras and international delegates from 22 countries.

A number of individuals attending an April 15 commemoration of Berta Cacere’s life on the Gualcarque River were violently assaulted. The Canadian delegates were eyewitnesses to police collusion with violent pro-mine protestors hired by the Honduran DESA corporation to try to drive away the indigenous peoples’ gathering. Police stood with their shields facing the peaceful gathering while men armed with machetes behind them yelled threats and abuse. The same armed group later threw rocks and threatened those attending the gathering with machetes, injuring at least eight people. Police failed to stop the attacks and arrested no one.

The delegation also visited the San Andrés Mine at Azacualpa, Honduras, operated by the Canadian corporation Aura Minerals. Despite attempts by local employees of Aura Minerals to impede access to the affected community through a public road, the delegation was able to visit the community members, who told the delegation of environmental and health concerns from the open pit cyanide leaching mine operations, as well as Aura Minerals’ failure to keep its bargains for alternative housing, illegal attempts to remove the community’s cemetery, and death threats.

The delegation travelled to Ottawa from 20-22 April to hold a press conference and report to Members of Parliament and senior officials from all of Canada’s political parties that there is no confidence in any investigation conducted by any Honduran government agency. After the murder of Berta Cáceres, local police immediately contaminated the crime scene. A special unit of the Public Prosecutor, the Criminal Investigation Technical Agency (ATIC), allegedly mishandled the investigation. For example, Ms. Cáceres had reported she was being harassed by politicians who she believed were acting at the behest of DESA. She had received death threats after an altercation with DESA employees, soldiers and police while she was leading a march. Yet, there was no search of DESA offices until 11 days after the murder.


Police assault lawyer trying to defend clients

Alldo Fellix Januardy is an independent public interest lawyer at the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Jakarta. On 12 January 2016, he was attacked by members of the Civil Service Police Unit and the Sub-District Head of Tebet, which left him with wounds to his face. At the time, Mr. Januardy was attempting to prevent a forced eviction of his clients in Bukit Duri and was asking police to wait for the outcome of legal processes in municipal and district courts before continuing with the eviction. This mistreatment of Alldo Fellix Januardy violates both national and international human rights laws; Articles 15 and 18(2) of the Indonesian Law no. 18 outline protection for lawyers and their work, and as a member of the UN Indonesia is bound to follow the UN Basic Principles of the Role of Lawyers. In response to this attack, LRWC partnered with the Dutch organization Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) to send a letter on 13 April 2016 asking the Indonesian government to guarantee the safety of Alldo Felix Januardy and conduct an impartial investigation into the incident. The letter also called for the education of judicial forces on the need to protect lawyers as well as a general request to end all harassment against lawyers.

Police attack lawyer attempting to provide legal assistance to client

On 26 May 2016, LRWC and L4L released a joint letter regarding the attack on lawyer Asrul Azis Sigalingging by the Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja (Satpol PP). Mr. Sigalingging was forcibly drugged and attacked on 25 March 2016 while trying to provide legal assistance to a student who had been detained following another attack by the Satpol PP earlier that day. Following the altercation, Mr. Sigalingging, along with 37 other public lawyers, filed a complaint with the West Sumatra Regional Police Office, demanding an investigation into the attacks on the students and Mr. Sigalingging. No Satpol PP officers have been charged and there has been little progress in the investigation. These attacks contravene Indonesian law, which provides that lawyers shall be free to engage in their occupation and shall not be associated with their clients. As a member of the UN, Indonesia is bound to uphold the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which protect the safety and freedom of lawyers as they work. LRWC and L4L ask the Indonesian government to ensure the safety of Asrul Azis Sigalingging and conduct an impartial investigation into the incident, as well as to end all harassment against lawyers in accordance with international human rights standards.


Lawyers arrested for supporting Bar Council motion called for resignation of AG

On 19 March 2016, the Bar Council of the Malaysian Bar Association tabled and approved a motion calling for the immediate resignation of Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali. The motion was in response to the Attorney General’s decision to close down the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission investigation of the transfer to the Prime Minister of 2.6b MYR (USD 681M) by SRC International, a former subsidiary of heavily indebted and scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The Prime Minister maintains that the transfer was a ‘no-strings-attached’ donation from the Saudi royal family and that he had returned, as unused, 2.03b MYR (USD 660M) of the transfer. Following this development, the Secretary of the Malaysian Bar Association Karen Cheah Yee Lynn and the three lawyers who moved the motion—Shanmugan Ramsey, Francis Pereira and Charles Hector—were arrested on 31 March 2016 and are being investigated under section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act 1948. On 5 April 2016, LRWC wrote a letter asking for the release of the four lawyers and the discontinuation of investigations, joining calls from other international organizations such as Amnesty International and the Advocates Association of Sarawak. LRWC urged repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, which has been used in Malaysia to restrict freedom of speech and silence any criticisms of government. As a member of the UN, the Commonwealth and ASEAN, Malaysia is legally bound to protect freedom of expression. LRWC has written several letters, statements and reports chronicling the need for repeal of the Sedition Act.


Canada should call for release of Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi

In a 26 May letter, LRWC asked Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs to use his influence with Saudi Arabia to secure the immediate release and pardon of convicted and imprisoned lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and blogger Raif Badawai currently serving sentences of 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that the imprisonment of each of the men is arbitrary and not justified by law and recommended the immediate release of Waleed Abu al-Khair in October 2015.


Nabeel Adib Abdallah’s office raided and students arrested

On 5 May 2016, the office of human rights lawyer and activist Nabeel Adib Abdallah was raided by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Along with removing Mr. Nabeel Adib Abdallah’s personal property, the NISS arrested several university students. There has been no information released on the specific charges laid against the students. LRWC believes the arrests were in response to their human rights advocacy. As a member of the UN, Sudan is bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to protect individuals against arbitrary arrest. On 11 May 2016, LRWC sent a letter to Sudanese officials calling for the release of the detainees and the protection of their physical and psychological health in custody. The letter also asks for charges to be dropped against the students until sufficient evidence of criminal activity has been found, and that further government actions be in accordance with the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders. Other LRWC letters objecting to suppression of human rights activists in Sudan can be viewed online.


NGOs appeal for the release of the Duma Four

LRWC and several partner organizations released a joint appeal on 29 April 2016 for the release of human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamad and Wa’el Hamadi (Razan’s husband), who together make up “the Duma Four”. Razan Zaitouneh has been one of the most prominent and effective lawyers defending political prisoners in Syria since 2001. The joint appeal was published on her birthday and preceded a vigil honouring the Duma Four on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 30 April 2016, which was co-sponsored by Amnesty International Canada. The Duma Four were abducted by masked assailants on 9 December 2013 from the Violations Documentation Centre near Damascus. Since that day, there has been no news on their whereabouts or condition. Razan Zaitouneh is one of three finalists for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In 2011 she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the Anna Politkovskaya Award given annually by RAW (Reach All Women in War). Other signatories to the joint appeal include Amnesty International Canada, L4L, the International Service for Human Rights and the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Other LRWC appeals for the release of the Duma Four can be viewed online.

NGOs appeal for the release of disappeared human rights advocates

LRWC was part of a group of 21 non-governmental organizations who published a joint letter on the situation of disappeared and detained people in Syria. The letter cites cases of 10 adults and 6 children abducted and forcibly disappeared or arbitrarily detained in the last five years, drawing attention to the wider pattern of such illegal actions across the country. Named in the letter were: Khalil Ma’touq, lawyer and Director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research and his colleague and assistant Mohammed Zaza, missing since 2 October 2012; Razan Zaitouneh, lawyer and human rights activist, Samira Khalil, long-term peaceful political activist, Nazim Hamadi, humanitarian assistance provider, and Wa’el Hamada, human rights defender, all of whom are missing since having been abducted from their office in Douma in December 2013; Abdullah Al-Khalil, missing since May 2013; freedom of expression activist Bassel Khartabil, lawyer and head of the opposition-affiliated local council for al-Raqqa Governorate, arrested in May 2012 and missing since October 2015; Mohammed Bashir, medical doctor, missing since his arrest in November 2011 by Syrian government forces in November 2011; and Rania Al-Abbasi, dentist, and her six children, aged between 2 and 14 at the time of their arrest from their home in Damascus by Military Security agents in March 2013. All are believed to have been targeted because of their peaceful human rights advocacy, except for Rania Al-Abbasi and her children. It is not known why they were arrested and disappeared. The organizations endorsing the joint letter ask for the immediate release of detainees and propose an independent monitoring system to oversee the releases.


Gun attack against community rights defender:

On 8 April 2016, community activist Mr. Supoj Kansang was severely wounded after being shot eight times by an unidentified gunman in the Surat Thani Province in Southern Thailand. Mr. Kansang is a member of the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT), and is the fifth activist from the organization to be shot in an ongoing dispute with palm oil company Jiew Kang Jue Pattana Co. Ltd. Other members continue to face death threats, which are making it increasingly difficult for them to continue with their work. The company has been ordered to vacate land it is illegally occupying, but there has been no enforcement of the ruling. LRWC’s 12 April 2016 letter called for an investigation into the shooting and the threats being received by SPFT activists, protection for community activists and other human rights defenders and cessation of all activities that disturb people living in areas under agricultural reform.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk: Five years of arbitrary detention

Thai Human Rights defender Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is currently serving a 10-year sentence for peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression. Somyot was charged with lèse majesté under Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, which punishes those who “defame, insult, or threaten the King”, for allowing publication of two satirical articles in a magazine for which he was editor. Somyot was arrested 5 days after beginning a campaign to collect 10,000 petition signatures, which would be required to force Thailand’s parliament to review Article 112. His conviction is a violation of his right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, and his detention has therefore been found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. On 19 September 2014, Thailand’s Court of Appeal upheld Somyot’s conviction. Somyot maintains his innocence and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in November 2014. On 29 April 2016, the five-year anniversary of Somyot’s detention, 16 international human rights organizations, including LRWC, issued a joint letter condemning Somyot’s ongoing arbitrary detention and renewing calls for his immediate and unconditional release and adequate compensation.

Criminal charges to intimidate lawyers

LRWC, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) released a joint letter 6 May 2016 expressing concern about harassment and intimidation of human rights lawyers in Thailand, focusing on the cases of Sirikan Charoensiri and Benjarat Meethien. Sirikan Charoensiri, a member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, was summoned to appear at the Chanasongkram Police Station on 2 February 2016 and charged with concealment of evidence and “refusing to comply with the order of an official” under the Criminal Code of Thailand. The accusations stem from Ms. Sirikan’s refusal to consent to police searching her car which was later impounded. Benjarat Meethien, defense counsel on two high profile cases, is facing charges for “giving false information concerning a criminal offense” and criminal defamation. These two recent cases demonstrate the harassment lawyers may face in Thailand when taking part in political cases. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that lawyers must be able to represent their clients without fear of retaliation and intimidation. LRWC, ICJ and L4L asked the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand to investigate the two cases and ensure that lawyers can work without fear and interference by authorities.

Court in northeast Thailand convicts two men for attacking rights defenders

On 31 May 2016, the Loei Provincial Court in Thailand convicted and sentenced to jail Army Lieutenant Colonel Poramin Pomnak and retired Army Lieutenant General Porames Pomnak for involvement in attacks against land rights defenders in Loei province on 15 May 2014. The two men were convicted of causing bodily harm, depriving others of liberty, and unnecessary use of a firearm in public. The two were the only people charged in the attack carried out by at least 150 men who violently detained villagers at three village roadblocks for several hours while a convoy of several trailer trucks entered the compound of the Tungkum Limited (TKL) gold mine and exited with loads of gold ore. Most of the persons attacked were community-based rights defenders seeking closure of the gold mine and remedies to address health and environmental impacts of the Tungkum gold mine. From 22-25 October 2015, a LRWC member travelled to Loei Provincial Court in Northeast Thailand to observe a portion of the trial. A number of other organizations, including Protection International, Fortify Rights and the International Commission of Jurists, also sent trial observers. This conviction is welcome given that impunity for attacks on environmental and land rights defenders is commonplace in Thailand. Advocacy in this case is now focussed on calling Thai authorities to reopen the case and conduct a thorough, impartial and independent investigation to ensure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice.


NGOs call for release and withdrawal of charges against Ayşe Acinikli and Ramazan Demir

On 4 May 2016, LRWC and other international human rights organizations released a joint statement calling on five UN Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take action to ensure the release of, and withdrawal of charges against, arbitrarily detained human rights lawyers Ms. Ayşe Acinikli and Mr. Ramazan Demir. Since 2009, Turkey has been arresting and prosecuting defense lawyers, and the situation has worsened with the breakdown of peace agreements between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The President of Turkey recently announced plans to broaden the current definition of terrorism, in keeping with the pattern of criminalizing peaceful opposition to government policies and opposition to the use of force in the civil conflict. The recent arrests of Ms. Acinikli and Mr. Demir illustrate violations by Turkey of both domestic and international laws, including the Turkish Constitution, the UDHR, the ICCPR and the ECHR. The joint letter asks for withdrawal of charges against Ms. Acinikli and Mr. Demir. The letter also calls for the Turkish government to stop the use of oppressive methods, refrain from broadening of the definition of terrorism, and remain faithful to its international law obligations.


Use TPP talks to urge compliance with international human rights law, say NGOs

A number of NGOs, including LRWC endorsed a letter, released 26 April 2016, calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to urge Viet Nam to release political prisoners, repeal laws that criminalize the exercise of internationally protected rights, legalize unions and cease harassment of human rights defenders in accordance with its international human rights obligations. The NGOs asked that these concerns be raised during scheduled US/Viet Nam talks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.


UN ECOSOC Committee criticized for restricting NGO participation in UN

LRWC joined 230 NGOs in sending an open letter to ECOSOC regarding the Committee on NGOs that reviews and approves applications from NGOs for ECOSOC consultative status. NGOs with General or Special Consultative Status have a political relationship with ECOSOC and have rights and obligations as enumerated in ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, including rights to attend and present written and oral statements at meetings of ECOSOC subsidiary bodies and to attend international conferences called by the UN General Assembly special sessions. NGO participation is essential to the success of UN efforts to implement and enforce human rights.

The letter expresses concern with the politicization of the Committee’s work and the consequent danger of human rights NGOs facing denial or revocation of status because of interference from States seeking to silence the reporting of human rights abuses and calls on ECOSOC and the Committee to demand that States fully respect the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, GA res 53/144 (1998), which affirms “the right, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access and communication with international bodies.”

International law reform: Draft model law to protect human rights defenders

LRWC reviewed and provided comments to the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) on a draft model law to protect human rights defenders. The model law, which is being developed by ISHR in partnership with key regional, sub-regional and national human rights defender groups from around the world, will assist States to develop laws, policies and institutions at the national level to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from reprisals and attacks. The model law is currently being finalized following a meeting of international human rights experts in May. More information about the draft model law is available on the ISHR website.



Thailand’s Human Rights Council (HRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was held on 11 May 2016 in Geneva. At the review, approximately 100 States made a total of 249 recommendations, of which Thailand has accepted 181 and agreed to examine the remaining 68 by September 2016. LRWC is now monitoring the Thai government’s implementation of the accepted recommendations and its pending decisions.

LRWC has played an active role in the huge collective effort by civil society organizations to participate in the UPR process to improve the human rights situation in Thailand. LRWC provided a formal submission and attended a civil society UPR consultation workshop in Bangkok in December 2015. Several recommendations made in LRWC’s Thailand UPR submission were put forward by Member States and formally accepted by the Thai government, including:

  • ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 2006 (UNCAT), ensuring that all laws are brought into conformity with the UNCAT, and adopting UNCAT’s definition of torture as a specific offence in Thai legislation;
  • expediting ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED) signed by Thailand in 2012;
  • ensuring that the upcoming Constitution complies with Thailand’s international human rights law obligations; and
  • stopping all forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, and ensuring their rights are respected.

During the UPR process and throughout years of monitoring Thailand, LRWC has advocated for human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists charged with offences based on their exercise of freedoms of expression and assembly. While it is encouraging that Thailand accepted the general recommendation to ensure that the rights of freedoms of expression and assembly are guaranteed, especially in the context of peaceful protests, and to protect human rights defenders in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Thailand’s decision is still pending on recommendations to end the stifling restrictions imposed by the military regime on these basic rights and fundamental freedoms. Specifically, Thailand agreed only to examine and report to the Human Rights Council in September on its responses to the recommendations to ensure that human rights defenders do not face harassment and threats for expressing their views, to stop the use of the Computer Crimes Act and Criminal Code to restrict freedom of expression, put an end to the prosecution of civilians in military courts, and to put an immediate end to the use of arbitrary detention.


LRWC to file complaint about Saudi Arabia – LRWC is preparing a complaint to the Human Rights Council about the case of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was wrongly convicted in Saudi Arabia in July 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15-year ban on leaving Saudi Arabia and a fine. The LRWC complaint will ask the HRC to take action to ensure that Saudi Arabia releases and pardons Waleed Abu al-Khair.


Catherine Morris, LRWC Research Director and Monitor, and LRWC member Paul Scambler will attend the 32nd Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva during the second week.


Inter-American human rights system needs funding – LRWC joined over 300 NGOs from the Americas in a joint letter to member states of the Organization of American (OAS), highlighting the funding crisis faced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and calling for the creation of a special sustainable financing fund to maintain the services of bodies of the Inter-American human rights system including the IACHR  and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The IACHR is the body responsible for monitoring the human rights obligations of member states, providing measures to protect against human rights violations and advising the OAS on human rights issues. The Commission has advised that as of July 2016, 40% of their staff contracts expire and there are no funds to continue the contracts.  Canada’s contribution to the Commission has declined from $611,200 USD in 2011 to US $75,000 in 2015 and, to date, Canada has not made a contribution in 2016. The letter is available on the CEJIL site here.


“The Case for Replacing the 2002 Legal Services Society Act – Part I: Tracking the Trajectory of Legal Aid in British Columbia” by The Honourable M. Anne Rowles & Connor Bildfell.

This article, published in the May 2016 edition of the Advocate, tracks the trajectory of legal aid in British Columbia.

The Legal Services Society Act, RSBC 1979, c 227 created the Legal Services Society (the “Society”), through which government-funded legal aid is provided and administered in British Columbia. In 2002, what was then the Legal Services Society Act, RSBC 1996, c 256 (the “1996 Act”) was repealed and replaced by the Legal Services Society Act, SBC 2002, c 30 (the “2002 Act”). The Society was continued but the 2002 replacement legislation eliminated the stated objects or purpose of the Society set out in the original statute and failed to stipulate the services that the Society is obligated to provide.

The purpose of this article is to consider the nature of the 2002 legislative changes and whether the negative effects that the legislation has had on the provision of legal aid services in British Columbia should now prompt the repeal and replacement of the 2002 Act.

Part II of this article will appear in a later issue of the Advocate.

For additional commentary and analysis of the landscape of legal aid in British Columbia, see the LRWC publication, The Right to Legal Aid: How BC’s Legal Aid System Fails to Comply with International Law.


LRWC and LRW(Legal Research)C held their Annual General Meeting on Friday 29 April 2016 in Vancouver. Members from Vancouver attended in person. Attending by telephone and Skype were members from Toronto, Montreal, Victoria, Ottawa and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The election of directors of LRWC and LRW(LR)C, annual business and resolutions were followed by reports from Heather Neun on Colombia and Honduras, comments by Catherine Morris on Honduras and a report on Turkey by Brian Samuels. Members discussed LRWC work done during 2015 and planned for 2016.   Elected as directors of LRWC were: Marjorie Cohn, Gail Davidson, Julius Grey, Andrew Guaglio, Leo McGrady, Q.C., Heather Neun, David F. Sutherland, and Grace Woo. Elected as Directors of LRW(LR)C were: Siobhan Airey, Clive Ansley, Gavin Magrath, Margaret (Peggy) Stanier, Vani Selvarajah, Brian Samuels, and Maureen Webb.


Miranda Cheng, Kathleen Copps, Gail Davidson, Maya Duvage, Daniel Fredericks, Joe Hoffer, Adam Hummel, Lois Leslie, William Liaw, Heather Lui, Gavin Magrath, Catherine Morris, Renée Mulligan, Heather Neun, Robert Peake, Brian Samuels, Cody Solof and Chantelle Wilson-Cole.

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