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Lawyer leader silenced for defending rule of law in China
Candlelit protestors in Hong Kong mark 30th anniversary of 1989's Tiananmen Square massacre Pic: Shutterstock

19 Dec 2019 / human rights Print

China silences law leader for defence of rule of law

A body committed to defence of the rule of law has said that it chose to attend a conference of Chinese lawyers on the grounds of maintaining open dialogue with those who do not share its values.

The president of the Paris-based Union of International Advocates-Institute for the Rule of Law (UIA-IROL) accepted an invitation to go to China earlier this month.

Jerry Roth was to participate in the Global Lawyers Forum in Guangzhou, China, on 9 and 10 December, hosted by the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), which represents more than 400,000 lawyers.

Criticism

The body says it recognises that engaging with such voices might invite criticism from those who prefer to ignore or boycott countervailing views, or who argue that engaging in the debate serves to legitimise unacceptable positions.

Legal representatives from almost 60 others countries in Asia and beyond, as well as the heads of other major international law associations (such as the IBA, LawAsia, the IPBA, and the CCBE) attended for two days of presentations and discussions.

However, President Roth’s keynote speech was cancelled after speaker notes were submitted to authorities.

'Socialist version of the rule of law'

During the forum, representatives of the Chinese Government referred to what they called a “Chinese or socialist version of the rule of law”, which was described as necessary to preserve the nation’s prosperity, stability and ‘social justice” in light of its special characteristics.

This definition did not make reference to fundamental aspects of the rule of law, including protection of human rights or rights of minorities, independence of the bar and judiciary, and separation of powers.

UIA-IROL President Roth was initially invited to address the forum as a keynote speaker.

Cancelled

However, when he submitted the final version of his planned remarks, as required by conference organisers, his keynote speech was cancelled.

The UIA-IROL said it is committed, without reservation, to human rights, “defence of the defence”, independence of the legal profession and of the judiciary, and protection of the rule of law, consistent with the definition put forward by the United Nations.

Distort meaning

“Some of those [authorities'] voices choose to ignore the concept of the rule of law altogether or refuse to defend it. Still others seek to redefine the rule of law and, in so doing, to distort its meaning in a manner that changes or omits its fundamental characteristics,” it said in a statement.

“UIA-IROL, however, is committed to global engagement to the fullest extent possible as an essential tool, working with members of the legal profession everywhere to promote the protection of lawyers and to support the rule of law throughout the world,” the body said.

Accepted norms

President Roth planned to defend human rights and accepted norms in his speech.

It ran: “We are involved in promoting and defending the rule of law in the true and full meaning of that phrase as it has been internationally accepted, including by the United Nations.

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