TORONTO, Feb. 28, 2014 /CNW/ - The Law Society of Upper Canada is concerned that human rights lawyers seeking to represent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) clients in Nigeria will face harassment.
Nigeria enacted the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act ("SSMPA") on January 7, 2014. The SSMPA prohibits not only same sex marriage, but also the witnessing, abetting and aiding in the solemnization of a same sex marriage and public displays of affection. It also prohibits any person or group from providing services to anyone perceived to be homosexual as well as supporting the registration, operation and support of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria. Individuals providing services to the LGBTI community upon conviction may receive 10 years in prison. The Act does not define what is meant by "providing services". This ambiguity has a chilling effect on Nigerian lawyers and increases the likelihood that Nigeria's LGBTI community will find it difficult to receive legal services.
Lawyers serving LGBTI clients and organizations face stigmatization which is creating a chilling effect as fewer lawyers are willing to represent the LGBTI community. The LGBTI community is often marginalized and impoverished. The SSMPA limits the LGBTI community's access to justice as increasingly lawyers are frightened that they will be charged under the SSMPA or found guilty by association. The Law Society is deeply concerned that lawyers who work for the protection and respect of human rights in Nigeria will themselves be targeted for exercising their freedoms and rights under international law.
International human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that respect for human rights is essential to advancing the rule of law. Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states "governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely; and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics." Article 18 states "lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions".
The Law Society urges the government of Nigeria to,
|a.||guarantee all the procedural rights that should be accorded to any lawyers that are arrested and to release them immediately if it appears that no charges should be laid against them;|
|b.||guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of the lawyers;|
|c.||put an end to all acts of harassment against lawyers and other human rights defenders in Nigeria;|
|d.||ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations; and|
|e.||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 46,200 lawyers and 6,000 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada and 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.
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.
SOURCE: The Law Society of Upper Canada
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