International Human Rights Day 2021 – Spotlight on the Human Rights Committee of the Bar of Ireland

10 December 2021

International Human Rights Day – marking the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights  – provides an opportunity to reflect on the theme of ‘All human, All equal’,  and how the work of The Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Committee gives effect to these values.

The 2021 Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award to the Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland.

On this Human Rights Day 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reminds countries of the importance of equality and of collective action and it is clear that MASI embodies those values in its work and were deserving recipients of the Human Rights Award 2021.

The award of this year’s Annual Human Rights Award to the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland was very much aligned to that of Human Rights Day of 2021. The Award was given in recognition of the work done by MASI in highlighting the realities of the direct provision system and in its continued advocacy for those in the international protection system in Ireland.

Endangered Lawyers

Over the course of this year the Human Rights Committee has continued to highlight the work of human rights lawyers in other jurisdictions and to draw attention to those whose work in defending human rights has resulted in them being the subject of targeting  and human rights abuses themselves. The Committee has continued to write letters of concern to governments and representatives where the work of human rights lawyers has been limited or interfered with.

  • Of note, the Committee has made an appeal to the British Ambassador in relation to the case of Pat Finucane, in respect of whose death no public inquiry has been held to date, despite long-standing commitments to do so by the British Government.
  • Further letters were sent to the Ambassador to Iran regarding the case of Hoda Amid (a lawyer specialising in women’s rights subject to arrest and detention).
  • In addition, an appeal to the Belarusian Embassy regarding the cases of Lyudmila Kazak, Mikhail Kiryluk, Konstantsin Mikhel and Maksim Konan (all lawyers whose licences were revoked in connection with the substance of their work).

The Committee has joined with the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and other bodies in campaigning to highlight the risks faced by lawyers across the globe, arising out of their work in the legal system.

Women Judges of Afghanistan

Of particular note in 2021 has been international concern regarding the work of lawyers in Afghanistan, in particular that of female lawyers and Judges. The Bar of Ireland joined with a coalition the Association of Judges in Ireland, the International Association of Women Judges, the Law Society of Ireland, Irish Rule of Law International and the Government of Ireland in the Ireland’s Justice Community Response to the Afghan Crisis through which donations, accommodation and collegiality and support are pledged to colleagues in Afghanistan.

Human Trafficking and the role for lawyers.

The Committee also held a successful event on Human Trafficking in July with Nusha Yonkova, Head of the Anti-Trafficking Unit at Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Ms Yonkova addressed the event alongside members of the legal profession, which sought to create collaboration and dialogue drawing together the experience and expertise of those working across the field of anti-trafficking in Ireland.

Call for an Oireachtas Committee on Human Rights

The Committee also joined calls for the establishment of an Oireachtas Committee on Human Rights, which would ensure the necessary scrutiny of the human rights impacts and implications of legislation prior to its passage.

The need for this Committee was brought into sharper focus this year as the covid-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for government and legislators resulting in the passage of significant emergency legislation on a much-accelerated timeline.

Public Awareness

The Bar of Ireland continues to place a focus on issues of human rights and rule of law through the work of the Council and the Human Rights committee through sustained advocacy and engagement with the relevant Departments, Oireachtas and European Commission.  

As part of our increasing focus on outreach and public legal education, the Chair’s Conference in 2021 was open to the public, on the theme of Human Rights: Universal Rights? Home and Abroad; focusing on the protection of fundamental and constitutional human rights in Europe and further afield.

About the Human Rights Committee of The Bar of Ireland

This Committee works to promote justice and respect for human rights through the rule of law. It monitors human rights issues, in particular those involving lawyers who are endangered, and engages with various human rights groups.

Chair: Joseph O’Sullivan BL