The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concerns about the abduction of human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh in Syria.
Razan Zaitouneh is a prominent human rights lawyer who has won several awards for her human rights work, including the 2013 International Women of Courage Award and the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She largely defends political prisoners. Razan Zaitouneh is a co-founder of both the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) and the Local Development and Small Projects Support (LDSPS).
On 9 December 2013, Razan Zaitouneh, along with her husband, Wa’el Hamada, and two colleagues, Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil, were abducted by unknown individuals from a joint office of the VDC and the LDSPS in the Damascus suburb of Douma. In the months prior to her abduction, Razan Zaitouneh had received threats from at least one armed opposition group in Eastern Ghouta. Reports indicate that the abduction of Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues is linked to their human rights work.
Razan Zaitouneh’s whereabouts are still unknown. December 2015 marked the second anniversary of her abduction. A number of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Human Rights Watch, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and PEN Canada, have released a statement asking the Canadian government to be involved in this case by taking all steps to ensure the Razan Zaitouneh, her husband and her two colleagues are located and released immediately.
The Law Society of Upper Canada urges the government of Syria to comply with Articles 16 and 23 of the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
Article 16 states:
Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economics or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
Moreover, Article 23 states:
Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the rights to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.
The Law Society urges the government of Syria to:
- locate Razan Zaitouneh and ensure that she is released immediately;
- put an end to all acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights lawyers and defenders in Syria;
- guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological safety and integrity of Razan Zaitouneh;
- ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.
*The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for more than 49,000 lawyers and 7,400 paralegals in the province of Ontario, Canada. The Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
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