Thursday, July 3, 2008

International Human Rights Lawyer Awards Announced

The American Bar Association’s Section of International Law announced today the recipients of its 2008 International Human Rights Lawyer Award: Asma Jahangir from Pakistan, Hina Jilani from Pakistan, Abdulrahman al-Lahem from Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Dadkhah from Iran.

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The annual award honors distinguished foreign human rights lawyers who have suffered persecution as a result of their professional activities.

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·         ASMA JAHANGIR (Pakistan) is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief.  She has spoken out for democracy and helped found the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1986, which has championed women's rights, demanded an end to bonded labor, challenged blasphemy laws, defended media freedoms and exposed official corruption.  Jahangir was put under house arrest November 3, 2007, within hours of President Musharraf's declaration of a national state of emergency for her insistence that the Pakistani government obey the constitution and respect individual rights.  Her 90-day detention order charges activities "prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of public order."  Now 55, Jahangir has campaigned since she was a teenager against military rulers who have held sway over Pakistan.

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·         HINA JILANI (Pakistan) co-founded, with her sister Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s first all-female legal practice in 1980. She is also one of the founders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She is the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on human rights defenders. In 2006, she was appointed to the U.N. International Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur.

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·         ABDULRAHMAN AL-LAHEM (Saudi Arabia) recently drew the Saudi court’s ire because of his appeal and outspoken criticism of the original sentence of a 19-year-old female rape victim.  Lahem also appealed the attackers’ sentences, saying that they were too lenient and that the treatment of the victim was too harsh. On November 15, 2007, a Saudi appellate court more than doubled the rape victim’s sentence to 200 lashes and six months in jail, provoking a rare public debate about the treatment of Saudi women.  Abdulrahman al-Lahem is also known for his past defense of critics of the monarchy.  He has had run-ins with Saudi authorities since he represented three Saudis who were jailed in 2003 for calling for a constitutional monarchy, a severe crime in a country where the power of the royal family is absolute.

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·         MOHAMMED DADKHAH (Iran) has taken on more than 300 human rights cases since 1997: reporters charged with writing against the system, activists alleged to be subverting national security, scholars accused of insulting Islam, and members of the Bahai religious faith rejected from university for their beliefs, to name just a few of his cases. He was one of the lawyers for 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to receive the prize, when she was charged with security crimes and locked up in prison.  In 2000 Dadkhah represented a member of the outlawed but barely tolerated Freedom Movement, when few, if any, lawyers were willing to represent defendants in the Revolutionary Court, which handles politically-charged cases.  Dadkhah also took on the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian Canadian journalist held in Evin Prison who eventually died of injuries allegedly suffered at the hands of government officials. The next year, Dadkhah was thrown into Evin Prison for five months.

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The ABA Section of International Law, which has more than 20,000 members in 90 countries, is the leader in the development of policy in the international arena, the promotion of the rule of law, and the education of international law practitioners. It focuses on the full range of international legal issues and is involved in a wide variety of substantive legal activities. The Section has assigned more than 60 regional and special interest  committees, task forces and working groups within 12 divisions — Africa/Eurasia, Americas/Middle East, Business Regulation, Constituent, Corporate, Disputes, Finance, Industries, Legal Practice, Public International Law, International Treaties, and Tax, Estates & Individuals — to closely monitor and disseminate information on domestic and international policy developments with implications for law practice.

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