By Danya Chaikel
Nearly 5,000 lawyers from 126 countries met in Madrid, Spain from October 4-9, 2009, for the International Bar Association (IBA) Annual conference. Danya Chaikel was one of 15 lucky “young” (under 35) lawyers to have won an IBA essay competition – receiving scholarships to attend the week of workshops and social activities.
Some highlights of the social events included, the opening ceremony hosted by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, followed by a performance by flamenco singer Estrella Morente; the opening gala which was situated on castle ruins with paella stations, fire breathing and fireworks; and notably a reception at the Real Madrid football stadium where guests could stroll along the famous green field.
Indeed, when the King of Spain opened the event, Chaikel immediately realized the significance of the conference. There were over 150 wide-ranging and interesting sessions to choose from. Some of the more novel topics included: peace versus justice – a discussion on international justice in Africa; financial crime and regulation: market abuse and insider dealing; a global update on mass claims: can litigation, arbitration and government remedies work together?; preserving and promoting indigenous languages and oral histories; gangs: are they the next international threat?; brokers’ liability in a marine insurance context; and commercialisation of space.
Some highlights of the sessions Chaikel attended are as follows:
The responsibility to protect (R2P): emerging international norm or mirage? – Canada came up with the R2P concept in 2005, and it was unanimously approved by 80 heads of state at the UN General Assembly later that year.
Rule of Law Forum – At this session, Lord Bingham and Judge Garzón spoke about global erosion of the rule of law and how the legal profession must take action. They spoke of fewer impartial judiciaries and diminishment of the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, independence of the legal profession, lawyer-client privilege and equality of all before the law. At the same time, there is an unfortunate increase in arbitrary arrests, secret trials, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention without trial and cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by state officials.
Then, to exemplify this theme, the final speaker was Graeme Leung, former president of the Fijian Law Society. His talk was perhaps the most powerful. He spoke of the 2006 military coup in his country and the almost total eradication of the rule of law that followed and remains today. According to Leung, all judges were dismissed after the coup so the executive branch could appoint new and sympathetic judges. Public gatherings of more than three people require prior government permission. Since Leung is openly critical of the sitting government, he says he receives death threats, hate mail and his privacy is constantly violated. The government has replaced the Fiji Bar Society as the licensing body for lawyers. Leung says many core values of the legal profession have been desecrated. He says that in Fiji there is rule “by” law, instead of rule of law. Leung remains optimistic, however, and he asked the audience to promote freedom and justice in their own jurisdictions, and not to forget his country where these rights do not exist at the moment.
Danya Chaikel, coordinator, International Association of Prosecutors Forum for International Criminal Justice.
This article was published in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.