The idea of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, is more than a philosophical or moral concept—it is embodied in law. Human rights are defined by international law, while most human rights violations are also violations of national law.
Lawyers, judges, magistrates, academics, law students and others who are familiar with the theory and practice of law have a vital role to play in protecting the human rights to free expression.
ADVANTAGES TO GETTING LEGAL EXPERTISE
Getting legal experts involved in your campaign offers several advantages because the legal profession is:
- Influential within most countries
- Well informed and adept at communication
- Widely respected internationally
- Linked nationally through its national professional associations
- Linked internationally through personal and professional contact, professional associations and international associations
Lawyers and their organisations can benefit your campaign in many ways, including:
Providing technical advice They can work as legal consultants to campaign coordinators and those lobbying inter-governmental organisations and national governments.
Linking the freedom of expression movement and the wider legal profession Lawyers can reach colleagues—through local or national law societies, bar associations and academic institutions—to raise awareness and encourage unified and, where appropriate, high-profile campaigning on specific cases or issues.
Defending victims of freedom-of-expression violations and promote legal reform They can make legal representations about individual cases or broader freedom of expression issues, presenting the legal arguments supported by international law.
10 WAYS LEGAL EXPERTS CAN HELP
1. Review or propose draft legislation
Having legal experts involved can be vitally important when new government legislation impacting on freedom of expression is proposed and requires comment, or when your organisation campaigns to promote new legislation.
2. Meet the media
Engaging a leading lawyer in a media event—for example, a press conference to launch a country report in which legal concerns are a major issue—can help you win coverage in the legal community and the wider media.
3. Make a statement
A public statement of support or concern by a respected legal organisation or individual lawyer can be specific or general:
- A specific statement—such as the need for detained journalists to have access to lawyers, doctors and relatives—can highlight an issue.
- A general statement, such as one supporting your organisation’s work, can be quoted when needed, whether in seeking contact with government officials or support or action from individual lawyers.
- A short statement can be signed by all relevant organisations and individuals as a simple and quick way of showing the level of support on an issue.
4. Write a letter
An official letter written by a prominent legal organisation or member of the legal community to government officials and embassies can be a good indication of the level of concern within your community on a human rights issue. A letter from an individual lawyer on official paper looks impressive and immediately makes clear the status of the author. Such letters also illustrate that the wider community shares your organisation's concerns.
5. Promote professional solidarity
Ask lawyers or legal organisations in your country to contact their counterparts in a target country and offer their support as co-professionals on human rights issues. This demonstration of concern and professional solidarity may also lead to opportunities for exchange visits and the sharing of expertise and resources.
6. Publicise your organisation's concerns in the media
A regular human rights column in a legal publication published by your country's bar association or law society could emphasize the legal focus of appeal cases, or thematic and country issues. From time to time, space may be available for longer, feature-length articles by a lawyer, taking up human rights and freedom of expression issues from a legal perspective.
In the general media, a leading lawyer sympathetic to your organisation's concerns could write an opinion piece for a newspaper. Copies of articles on issues in other countries may be sent with a cover letter to the relevant embassy, asking for a comment or response.
7. Help raise funds
Your organisation could ask a respected legal figure to appeal to lawyers for donations as you plan fundraising events of interest to members of the international legal network.
8. Increase awareness
Arrange a presentation at a university during the induction period for law students. Sponsor a human rights lawyer to speak at a public meeting.
9. Contact others
Contact other professionals or organisations that may have a particular interest in a case.
10. Join a delegation
Where broader legal issues or individual legal cases are involved, it can be effective to have legal professionals join delegations that meet with government officials or travel to other countries.
9 QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- What national associations representing lawyers exist in your country?
- Do these associations have subcommittees or individuals with responsibility for human rights?
- Have leading lawyers’ or legal organisations made public statements on domestic or international freedom of expression issues?
- Are particular lawyers or legal organisations likely to influence your government’s policy in relation to freedom of expression?
- Are there lawyers or legal organisations in a target country with influence on freedom of expression issues? Have they made statements or taken a position on these issues?
- How do legal organisations in your country communicate with their members; for example, through what types of publications?
- Are there specialised legal media? Do the publications accept articles from non-lawyers?
- Are there particular lawyers who write media columns or provide editorial opinion in the general media?
- Are lawyers or legal organisations affiliated to international bodies that may be able to take action, such as sending a letter raising freedom of expression concerns?