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End of Year Newsletter
With a special farewell message from Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC

This is my last newsletter for BHRC as my 6 years as Chairperson draws to a close. BHRC membership has increased nearly 7- fold in this time, and its roadshows around England and Wales have sought to encourage those eligible for membership to join. BHRC probably is the oldest pro bono organisation of human rights lawyers in the U.K. As a result, it has developed strong practical expertise to tackle international human rights violations; with its international partnerships keeping it sensitive to the ebbs and flows of national politics and economies.  

Looking over the summary of BHRC’s recent work, there are  highlights and warnings. A highlight has been BHRC’s successful intervention in the Inter-American Court of human rights between Honduras and López Lone and three other Judges.  The intervention set out that States who dismiss judges in breach of Convention rights must be made to act by the IACHR to restore those Judges to their former positions. Otherwise, a justice system is reduced to a toy of the executive. The IACHR subsequently ruled that the government’s excuses that the vacancies had been filled were inadequate. Judge López Lone was reinstated recently, and I was privileged to attend a conference in Honduras, at the Judges’ invitation, to speak on the independence of the judiciary.

 Another stand out has been the training of members of the Nigerian Bar Association of all the branches in the North East and the Niger Delta; barristers tackling the grave phenomena of internally displaced people and environmental and health damage caused by oil pollution.

A warning is the sliding of the peace accord in Colombia under its new political governance. The peace accord continues to veil the increase in the murder of community leaders. According to government’s ombudsman, around 164 have been killed this year – the highest level in 3 years. Last month, further death threats were made towards San José de Apartadó peace community from a self- proclaimed paramilitary group.

Finally, Turkey continues to flash alarm as it replaces its state of emergency legislation with decrees which implement the same draconian measures.

BHRC’s expertise in trial observations, human right law training, Amicus Curiae and statements of concern are in high demand from an ever- increasing range of people. Capacity is stretched and, often, overwhelmed. Whilst this is a sign of BHRC’s success, it puts into focus the need for both its members and increased membership as well as for more than one staff member to best and efficiently maximise the use of BHRC’s talent. 

Please do share this newsletter with potential members and also encourage donations from around your chambers, Universities, workplaces and homes. BHRC continues to search for funds for travel and accommodation in order to move closer to meeting the need it encounters with its bespoke expertise.  BHRC also hopes to be in a position to recruit a paid intern in 2019.

I am delighted that Schona Jolly QC is the new Chair of BHRC. She starts her term in January 2019 but is taking a sabbatical until March 2019. New co-Vice Chair, Steve Cragg QC will be acting Chair during this period. Gráinne Mellon is elected Secretary. Michael Ivers QC continues as Membership Secretary, and Jodie Blackstock continues as Treasurer. The  dedicated Executive Committee remain in position to work tirelessly for another year.

Thank you from me to this BHRC Executive and all previous BHRC Executives who I have worked with over the last 6 years and nearly a decade before that during my time as Vice-Chair and Board member. I thank our funders, primarily the Bar Council -which provides BHRC its core funding and money for its trial observation unit -and those who have supported us by providing office space and rooms for events. A special thanks to Mayer Brown and, of course, to Doughty Street whose support of BHRC has been generous and unwavering. Thank you to all our partners; it is a privilege to work alongside you and a daily reminder that the world contains brave, selfless and inspiring people.

Finally, a huge thank you to our membership. Your support whether it be active or silent, financially significant or small provides BHRC with the required depth and weight behind its international human rights interventions. The increase in membership and accompanying funds in the last few years has enabled BHRC to engage more widely and deeply than before. Every success of BHRC is your success.

This is a difficult letter to sign off. What words to use? I’ve chosen the words that impacted upon me.

I leave you with the words of former President Santos after he issued his public apology to San José de Apartadó peace community on December 10th 2013. This was the result of mediation by myself between the government and San José. Its words are a relevant backdrop to peace being sought in many countries from Yemen to Syria to Iraq:

I recognise the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó as a courageous vindication of the rights of Colombians that, despite having experienced the conflict first hand, has persisted in its efforts to achieve peace for the country.

For me, as President of the Republic, I have only profound admiration and respect for the Peace Community, and I regret and rebuke all the past accusations which have been made against its good name.

We do not agree with phrases or attitudes which stigmatise those who strive for peace and reject violence. On the contrary, we consider that every defender of peace and human rights must be praised and protected.

For this we ask for forgiveness. I ask for forgiveness. And I do so with the knowledge that forgiveness is a condition for peace, and that peace is the only guarantor that there will be no more victims.

Kirsty Brimelow QC
Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee
In case you missed it....

On 12 December 2018, BHRC hosted a special farewell event for Kirsty Brimelow QC. At the event, BHRC Executive Committee presented Kirsty with a video contains special messages of thanks from those who have worked closely with her, including the joint head of Doughty Street Chambers Edward Fitzgerald CBE QC, the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association AB Mahmoud SAN,  former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave, Reinaldo Villalba of CCAJ in Colombia, Susi Bascon of PBI UK, and the Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC. 

Meet the 2019 Office Holders
BHRC Trial Observation Unit

In 2018, BHRC has sent observers to hearings in Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Palestine and Turkey. 

BHRC undergoes trial observations in order to…. 

  • Ensure fundamental principles of the right to a fair trial are upheld
  • Document abuses of such rights
  • Identify possible systemic violations
  • Support international advocacy efforts to combat fair trial and human rights violations
Read all of our trial observation reports here
Recent Trial Observations

29 November
Honduras: the murder of Berta Cáceres

The trial of 8 defendants charged with the murder of Berta Cáceres, a winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders, who was shot dead in her home on the 2nd of March 2016, concluded in December with the conviction of 7 of the men,  including the communities and environment manager for the Agua Zarca dam company Desa.  Kirsty Brimelow QC met with one of the lawyers for Berta’s family and with one of her family members in Honduras. Sentencing of the defendants is fixed for 10 January 2019.

2 December
Colombia: The "12 Apostles" trial & the listing of tutelas

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC attended the trial of Santiago Uribe in Medellín, Colombia. He is accused of grave crimes arising from allegedly establishing and directing the “12 Apostles” -a paramilitary group responsible for murders and enforced disappearances in Antioquia. Also she attended a hearing on the listing of tutelas in Bogotá. This was in relation to a separate case concerning an allegation from the 17th Brigade against San José de Apartadó Comunidad de Paz. She met with PBI, Lawyers without Borders, the Caravana, the Human Rights unit of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland and CCJAR human rights lawyers and lawyers for victims in the 12 Apostles case. As part of the observation, she met with the Judge in the Uribe case. An interim report is to follow.  

1-2 November
Turkey: Taraf Newspaper & Cagdas Erdogan Trials

BHRC Co-membership Secretary Michael Ivers QC observed two hearings in separate cases as part of  BHRC's partnership with ARTICLE 19. Turkey v. Baransu and others (Taraf Newspaper case) and Turkey v. Cagdas Erdogan. BHRC has previously observed proceedings related to Taraf journalists in November 2016. Proceedings against the journalists continue in more than 100 cases on numerous charges with varying degrees of severity. The case of Cagdas Erdogan was adjourned pending  examination of further evidence. Trial reports are forthcoming. 

19 July
Turkey: Case of Onur Hamzaoglu

BHRC member Katherine O'Byrne attended the first hearing of the trial of 11 defendants in Ankara, Turkey, among whom are  medical staff, accused of "terrorist propaganda" and “provoking the people to hatred and enmity.” The charges were brought following their public statement against Turkey's military operations in Afrin, Syria, denouncing its humanitarian consequences and demanding for peace. The observation is part of an ongoing project with EuroMed Rights to provide a comprehensive look at the state of the judicial system in Turkey. A final report will be issued in 2019. 

10-11 May & 7-8 June 2018
Turkey: Zaman Journalists & their lawyer

BHRC Vice-Chair Schona Jolly QC attended the closing stages of the trial of 11 defendants who had worked in different capacities for the Turkish newspaper Zaman.  The observation was part of the established partnership between BHRC and ARTICLE 19 to observe the trials of journalists in Turkey 

The report concluded that on the basis of the material reviewed and observations conducted, BHRC considers that there are likely to have been violations of Articles 5, 6 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and the parallel rights under the ICCPR, relating to the liberty and security of these defendants, their right to a fair trial and their right, as journalists, to freedom of expression.

The report was published the week of the final hearing, and all of the defendants were acquitted and released. You can read the full, detailed report here.

5-6 May & 8 July
Kuwait: Parliamentarians & Protestors

Amanda Weston QC and Pete Weatherby QC attended the hearing before the Kuwait Court of Cassation mass trial of 73 defendants relating to an anti-corruption demonstration at the National Assembly in 2011.  Thirteen of the accused are current or former parliamentarians.  The interim report is available here.

The five judges unexpectedly adjourned the hearing on 6 May, and it was rescheduled for 8 July 2018. BHRC had planned to send two observers for the new hearing on 8 July; however, Pete Weatherby QC was denied a visa by the Kuwaiti government. As such, the hearing was observed by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC only. Although sixteen of the defendants were acquitted, two current lawmakers and six former MPs, all of whom are leading opposition figures, were convicted and sentenced to three and a half years in jail. Eight other defendants were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from two to three and a half years in jail; thirty-four others were convicted without the court issuing a sentence. A final BHRC report detailing concerns over due process in this case is pending.

Training Programmes
13-17 August
Environmental Rights and Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria

On 13 August ,Kirsty Brimelow QC led BHRC’s 5-day training for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on environmental law and alternative dispute resolution. The training team consisted of Tim Cooke-Hurle, Kemi Ojutiku, and Keven Jon Heller.

The programme brought together nearly 100 lawyers from the all the Niger Delta NBA branches, an area that has been devastated by pollution with resulting  environmental damage from extraction industries without adequate redress.

The training received financial support from the Rule of Law Expertise-UK (ROLE UK) and the Niger Delta Development Commission.

Learn more about the training here.

16-20 September
Training for Trial Observers in Istanbul, Turkey

In partnership with Media Law Studies Association in Istanbul and the International Press Institute in Vienna, BHRC Executive Member Joanne Cecil and Member Mark Jones trained around 30 journalists and lawyers in Istanbul on how to conduct trial observations. The training was funded in part by the Rule of Law Expertise-UK (ROLE UK). 

Reports and Submissions
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Submission to UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

The Bar Human Rights Committee alongside the Law Society of England and Wales and the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute have sent a joint submission concerning the independence of the legal profession in Turkey. 

The submission raised concern for the fair trial rights of lawyers facing prosecution in Turkey following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, including concerns for the independence of the judiciary and concerns about the independence of the legal profession, such as hindrances to the effective performance of lawyers’ professional functions, direct interference with the independence of bar associations and denying admission to the bar.

Learn more about the submission and read the full report here.

Submissions to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee on the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

BHRC submitted two reports to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee on two inquiries regarding the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The first inquiry, whose oral hearings took place on 12 June, involved a review of the human rights work of the FCO, and the second whose oral hearings took place on 17 July, focuses on how the FCO develops and maintains the skills its staff need for the effective delivery of UK priorities. In its submissions, BHRC raised concern that  knowledge and expertise is not harnessed effectively and that as a consequence there are missed opportunities in developing partnerships, impacting on the sustainability and long-term impact of the work of both the FCO and BHRC and that the perception at the very least is that human rights is becoming less of a priority for the government and that this is reflected within the revised priorities and themes, the reporting by the FCO and the turnover and loss of specialism within the FCO staff. More information about the submissions and the FAC hearings can be found here.

Letters & Public Statements
Joint Letter with the Bar Council to PM Theresa May regarding Turkey

BHRC sent a joint letter ahead of the Prime Minister's meeting with the President of Turkey urging her to voice concerns over Turkey’s ongoing and large-scale prosecution of judges, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders. 

Oral Statements at 38th Session of the Human Rights Council

BHRC joined five other organisations in urging the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to address the situation of the legal profession in Turkey and Poland. 

Public Statement on the 709 Crackdown in China

On the third anniversary of the 709 Crackdown in China, BHRC issued a statement of concern for the continued detention of human rights lawyers.  The 709 Crackdown, named after the date on which nationwide arrests began on 9 July 2015, led to nearly 250 Chinese human rights lawyers, their staff and human rights defenders being arrested and detained by police. 

Public Statement on Mass Prosecution in Egypt

BHRC issued a public statement condemning the mass arrest and sentencing of 759 individuals in Egypt. On 8 September 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court from a courthouse attached to the Tora prison complex, handed down 75 death penalties, 45 life sentences and terms of imprisonment ranging 5-15 years for the remaining. 

Times Article on the Public Statements Against ICC by the United States

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Drafting Committee member John Cubbon published an article in the Times Brief challenging statements made by United States national security advisor John Bolton in which he called the International Criminal Court “illegitimate” and “contrary to American values.”   Read the full article in the Times Brief here.

Public Statement for World Day Against the Death Penalty

On the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty, BHRC issued a statement raising awareness about conditions of confinement in Bahrain, Egypt, Jamaica and the United States–countries where BHRC has taken an active role in advocating against the death penalty.  Read the statement and learn more about BHRC's work against the death penalty here.

Joint Statement of Concern for Asia Bibi’s Lawyer, Saif Ul Malook

In response to reports that Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, has received death threats and been granted temporary asylum in the Netherlands, BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Bar Council Chair Andrew Walker QC issued a joint statement calling for the protection of lawyers at risk in Pakistan.

Public Statement of Concern at Arrests of Academics and Activists in Turkey

On 16 November 2018 fourteen high-profile activists and academics were arrested in Turkey.  BHRC issued a public statement expressing serious concern at the arrests, particularly noting that they appear consistent with a sustained attack on dissent as a means of silencing critical voices within Turkey.

Recent Events
View Latest News and Events Here

21 November | London
Turkey’s Continuing Crisis: Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law under Threat

Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales and ARTICLE 19 hosted a panel discussion highlighting urgent and continuing concerns about freedom of expression and the rule of law in Turkey, which has jailed more journalists than any other nation worldwide in the last two years.  The panel event, chaired by Ms Ann Clwyd MP, was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights. Speakers, which included BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and co-Vice Chair Schona Jolly QC, presented their own observations from the trials of journalists accused of involvement in the failed coup and explored the response of the international community, including that of the EU and the UK government, as well as the European Court of Human Rights, to this serious crisis. 

Read more about BHRC's work in Turkey here. 

24 November | London
A Global Mission: Championing Women in the Fight for Human Rights

The Bar Human Rights Committee hosted a panel discussion at the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference 2018. The panel was a dynamic discussion on how women in the legal professions represent and champion women, including journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders, themselves under attack for defending the rights of women.

The panel, chaired by BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC, included Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, FRSA, Hon FRSE; Susi Bascon, Director of Peace Brigades International, and Zubaida Mahmoud, a Nigerian lawyer championing women's equality in the legal profession.

3 May | London
20 Years of the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement

On 3 May, BHRC held an event on the 20 Years of the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement at Mayer Brown in London. The event included remarks from the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, AB Mahmoud SAN and the former Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, Dr. Chaloka Beyani. NBA President Mahmoud discussed the IDP crises in Nigeria and the local legal community’s response. Dr Beyani discussed the development of the UN Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement as well as key findings from his various missions during his time as the Special Rapporteur. The event was chaired by BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC who also provided a summary of BHRC’s training for Nigerian lawyers on the rights of IDPs.

21 June | Geneva
Joint UN Side Event: “State of emergency and attacks to the legal profession in Turkey”

In partnership with the Law Society of England and Wales and the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, BHRC co-organised a UN side event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to discuss the challenges that the Turkish legal profession is facing since the failed coup in July 2016. The side event included remarks from BHRC Secretary Stephen Cragg QC, as well as Tony Fisher, Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales, Massimo Frigo, International Commission of Jurists, and Özlem Zingil, a Turkish lawyer. The panel was chaired by Natacha Bracq, Programme Lawyer at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. The event was co-sponsored by Lawyers for Lawyers, the Union Internationale des Avocats and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada. You can view Mr Cragg's comments on the BHRC website here.

BHRC Road Show Series

This year, BHRC has conducted a series of events across England and Wales to introduce the circuits to the Bar Human Rights Committee and how barristers, legal practitioners and law students can get involved. In 2017. BHRC hosted a similar event in Manchester. This year, BHRC has visited.... 


with BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Exec Member Dominic Boothroyd 


with BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Exec Member Dominic Boothroyd


with BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Treasurer Jodie Blackstock


with BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC and Exec Member Jacob Bindman

Speaking Engagements

BHRC Executive Committee members accepted invitations to speak at a number of events this year. Most recently, these include... 

UN Side Event on human rights crisis in Bahrain | Geneva

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC spoke on the importance of universal jurisdiction and using international mechanisms to hold the government to account for human rights violations. 

Accountability for (International) Human Rights Violations |Dublin

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC spoke at the Irish Centre for Human Rights seminar on BHRC ‘s human rights work in Nigeria, Colombia and Bahrain as part of its collaboration with the Global Legal Action Network. You can read about the event here.

Defending Human Rights - Peace in Colombia: Another Magical Realism? | Edinburgh

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC discussed her work in Colombia and the ongoing peace process with members of the Faculty of Advocates in an event hosted by Faculty of Advocates Human Rights and Rule of Law Committee. You can read more about the event here

Asma Jahangir Conference on Justice for Empowerment | Lahore, Pakistan

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC  was key note speaker, together with former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Michael Kirby AC CMG, at the conference. She spoke on the incorporation of international human rights into domestic law. In addition, Kirsty was part of a panel discussing extra-judicial killings, extra judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and torture. More information about the first annual memorial conference can be found here

Mass detention in Xinjiang: political and legal perspectives | London

BHRC Treasurer Jodie Blackstock served as the Chair for the seminar, which followed China's UPR. More information about the panel can be found here.

ROLE UK Speed Presentation Event| London

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC presented a snapshot of BHRC's work at a speed presentation event in London hosted by its partner ROLE UK. The event also included engaging networking activities to build relationships among the legal sector. You can read the report on the event here.

Challenges to the Judiciary in light of its independence and prosecution of cases of grand corruption | Tegucigalpa, Honduras

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC participated as a speaker at a conference in Tegucigalpa, celebrating the reinstatement of Judge Lopez Lone by the Supreme Court of Honduras. BHRC previously submitted an amicus calling for his reinstatement to the Inter-American Commission. 

"The Witness" Film Screening and Panel Discussion | London

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC spoke at a panel event following the film screening of "The Witness." The film tells the story of Jesús (Chucho) Abad Colorado, whose response to the murder of his family during the violent conflict in Colombia led him to dedicated the next 25 years documenting Colombia’s war. The panel included the film's award-winning director and producer, Kate Horne, and The Conduit’s co-founder, Paul van Zyl, 

Denmark's Sexual offences law | Copenhagen

Kirsty Brimelow QC spoke at a conference examining changing Denmark’s sexual offences law which currently requires violence or threats of violence in order to prove the offence of rape. She attended at the invitation of Amnesty International Denmark.

Conference on Independence of Judges in Honduras. Judge López Lone (right), Kirsty Brimelow QC (centre), Magistrate José Luis Ramirez Barcelona. 

Meetings and Partnerships

Fact Finding & Partnership Development in Greece

BHRC Co-Vice Chair Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh conducted a fact-finding mission in Greece to determine how BHRC can provide assistance and support to the legal community working on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers from Turkey. The mission included meetings with key stakeholders in Athens and Lesvos, including Refugee Legal Support and Alarm Phone. Financial support for the mission was provided in part by Doughty Street Chambers. 

MOU on Trial Observations with ARTICLE 19

BHRC has signed a memorandum of understanding with Article 19 to conduct trial observations in Turkey in response to the unprecedented threat against the rights to freedom of expression and fair trials. The agreement between the two organisations seeks to bring together ARTICLE 19’s expertise on the right to freedom of expression and BHRC’s expertise on fair trials to draw attention Turkeys use of the Courts to silence those exercising their right to freedom of expression. Learn more about the partnership and read the MOU here.

Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference | Abuja, Nigeria

BHRC Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC, Membership Secretary Grainne Mellon and Exec Officer Amanda June Chadwick attended the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association at the invitation of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, OON, SAN. Ms Brimelow QC also spoke at the conference on the Rule of Law and Security, during which time she raised concern over comments made by the President of Nigeria at the conference earlier in the week. BHRC received financial support from ROLE UK to attend the conference. Read more about the conference here.

13 November
Peace Brigades International Celebration of Sir Henry Brooke

BHRC supported PBI’s event in celebration of Sir Henry Brooke and of the first awards in his name to human rights defenders. The event was held at the Supreme Court, hosted by Lord Carnworth with readings by actors Juliet Stevenson, Samuel West and Claire Price. 

23-24 November
Nigerian Bar Representatives Visit BHRC

During the Annual and Young Bar Conference in London, the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association Jonathan Gunu Taidi and the head of the Membership & Bar Services Directorate Ayodeji Oni attended the conference  as guests of the Bar Human Rights Committee. The NBA representatives also met with representatives from the Bar Council. 

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