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Civil Society Appeals to the International Association of Prosecutors to Uphold Human Rights

15 September 2016

Over 50 civil society organizations have called on the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) to take steps to ensure that its members act in accordance with international human rights standards.

The signatories of the petition note with concern a persistent negative trend to instrumentalize judicial systems to silence human rights defenders, independent civil society organisations and critical journalists. Both international organisations and human rights groups observe situations in the eastern part of the OSCE area in which prosecutors are involved in violations of basic human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment. These rights are laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international covenants, to which the Standards of Professional Responsibility and Statement of the Essential Duties and Rights of Prosecutors of the IAP refer.

The petition calls for the IAP to create credible and transparent monitoring systems and procedures to promote implementation of the ethical standards adopted by the organisation.

The petition has been handed over by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee to representatives of the IAP Executive Committee on September 13, during the IAP 21st Annual Conference in Dublin. The meeting with the Executive Committee was followed by a side-event on September 14, looking at possibilities of influencing human rights performance of prosecutors by the international professional community. Front Line Defenders joined the event by presenting cases of criminalisation of human rights defenders from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Civil society reports on the functioning of the judicial system and abuses by prosecutors in Azerbaijan and Russia were presented by Ramute Remezaite (EHRAC) and Konstantin Baranov (YHRM). Additionally, a policy brief and a Model Protocol on Human Rights for Public Prosecutors have been produced to present options for promoting human rights compliance by the International Association of Prosecutors.

“The IAP holds its conferences on an annual basis, but this is the first time that we have engaged with civil society in all these years”, noted one of the participating prosecutors, “your concerns have been heard and will not been left unanswered”.

Participating prosecutors asserted that inclusiveness and constructive dialogue among professionals were key in the approach of the organisation. Civil society representatives recognized that prosecutors in many situations play a central role in protecting human rights; this should not prevent however a critical approach to transgression of professional standards by other prosecutors. They pointed to existing models for monitoring and promoting human rights by intergovernmental, international (semi)public and private groups. The growing public demand for transparency and accountability of organisations such as the IAP was underlined.

A devoted web portal Defenders or Violators has been launched by the NHC and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights to promote human rights compliance by prosecutors and judges as part of the new joint initiative “Increasing Accountability and Respect for Human Rights by Judicial Authorities”. The initiative originated from joint multi-annual work by the two organisations and their international partners in support of human rights defenders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.