Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2021

January 23, 2021

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) calls on all countries, including Australia, to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional obligations without fear of retribution. 

On 24 January 2021, the 11th Day of the Endangered Lawyer, lawyers across the world are given a specific opportunity to reflect on the grave infringement of human rights experienced by some of our colleagues, and to advocate for systemic change in their treatment. ALHR finds it highly concerning that lawyers risk danger for upholding the human rights of others and protecting vulnerable clients. 

ALHR President Kerry Weste said “ALHR gives thought to the many human rights lawyers around the world who remain in prison or are at risk for simply doing their job and attempting to carry out their duties in line with international standards. Unfortunately, this now includes Australian lawyers facing prosecution for performing their duties.

“Bernard Collaery, together with his client Witness K, remains subject to a secretive prosecution under national security laws for revealing that the Australian Government spied on East Timor to gain an unfair advantage in oil and gas negotiations.

“Former Australian Defence Force lawyer David McBride is still facing five national security-related charges – that carry up to life imprisonment – for exposing grave human rights violations by Australian special forces soldiers, including the alleged executions of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners, deliberate cover-ups and abuse. He faces these charges despite the recent recommendations of the Brereton Inquiry that no action be taken against key individuals who helped bring the war crimes to light.”

Ms Weste continued, “What this shows us is that even here in Australia we must remain vigilant to protect the important role that lawyers, using legitimate legal mechanisms, play in uncovering illegality in government agencies. Lawyers who do so should not find themselves facing secretive prosecution and a jail term.”

The mistreatment of lawyers contravenes a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers

In 2021 the global focus of the Day of the Endangered Lawyer is on the experiences of lawyers in Azerbaijan. Serious human rights violations have affected Azerbaijani lawyers who represent the victims of human rights violations and have spoken up about torture and ill-treatment in police custody. Lawyers who assisted in bringing the cases of human rights defenders to the European Court of Human Rights have been disbarred or even detained on various charges. The Azerbaijani authorities have failed to respect the rights of lawyers by not adequately enabling them to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. Furthermore, the Azerbaijani authorities have failed to take substantive steps to uphold the right to a fair trial and to guarantee that every citizen has effective access to justice and legal assistance of their choice.”

“ALHR calls on all countries to comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and ensure that lawyers can act in accordance with the law and without improper interference or persecution,” Ms Weste said. 

Contact Matt Mitchell on 0431 980 365 or