PBI UK and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk
The Third Annual
Sir Henry Brooke Awards
for Human Rights Defenders
On December 7th we were honoured to host the third annual Sir Henry Brooke Awards for Human Rights Defenders. The awards are an opportunity to celebrate the commitment of our beloved late patron Sir Henry Brooke, and the lawyers and other human rights defenders we protect, to the rule of law. This is increasingly prescient as civil liberties and human rights lawyers come under increasing fire in the UK and all over the world.
We were so pleased that over 4,200 people tuned in from around the world to celebrate our winners and show solidarity with human rights defenders.
The annual ceremony reminds us of the challenges that rights defenders face in contexts where the rule of law is weak. They are vital to the defence of fundamental freedoms, for which they often pay with their own lives.
In recent years the UK legal profession has come under fire from all angles; attacked by the government and the media as out of touch and ill-at-ease with the concerns of everyday people and favouring their clients over the rule of law. Following a knife attack at an immigration firm, the Law Society has written to the Home Secretary about its public statements about ‘activist lawyers’ and the risk it puts professionals upholding the rule of law.
Being a lawyer is by no means easy in this country, but looking overseas puts things somewhat into perspective. We work in eight countries where being a human rights lawyer means daily attacks, threats and intimidation. With human rights lawyers under threat all over the world, we need to raise our voice and stand in solidarity with them so they can continue to fight for the rule of law.
The freedom to uphold the rule of law is one which every legal professional should have, but, unfortunately for the lawyers that PBI supports, this is not the case. At the Sir Henry Brooke Awards, PBI invited British lawyers to reflect on the privileges that are unfortunately not enjoyed by the lawyers we work with.
“I wanted to help because it was obviously something well worth supporting.”
We also reflect on the resilience we have seen in human right defenders working in times of adversity. The pandemic has changed the lives of everyone, perhaps permanently. We may struggle with the outbreak and its consequences, and we can gain strength from hearing the stories of those keeping their communities safe and continuing to defend their rights against repressive governments and inadequate healthcare systems. Around the world, communities are stepping up to tackle the global health crisis: organising mutual aid; donating time and money to the vulnerable; and taking risks to guarantee the safety of humanity. Monitoring human rights violations and government abuses, HRDs have played an invaluable role within their communities becoming the first point of contact for support and help during the COVID crisis. Often neglected from government programmes.
Finally, we celebrate the support of the UK legal community to the defence of justice around the world, as they support the effort of human rights defenders working in countries where the rule of law is weak. Their financial and pro bono assistance is essential for human rights defenders to be able to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.
"The 31 years of carrying out the defence of human rights has not been easy… Today I receive the award with colleagues and fellow defenders who were killed, whose bodies with pierced with bullets for defending their territories. We are a community of peace. Resilient. Our only weapon is the word - which is a deadly weapon against violence.”
“I receive this award and share it with all the organizations and human rights defenders in my country, and the thousands of victims of violence. Since the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian State, more than 1050 defenders and social leaders have been killed. Over 250 ex-combatants have been killed... My country, it hurts to say, is a great cemetery.”
Sir Henry Brooke CMG
The awards are presented in honour of our much-missed late patron. Sir Henry was a man of remarkable conviction, integrity and generosity, whose life and career were characterised by his tireless commitment to justice, equality and human rights. We have chosen the award winners on the basis of the qualities he valued most, this year with a particular focus on defenders who have demonstrated commitment to the rule of law and protecting freedom of expression.
A lawyer at Fountain Court Chambers who went on to serve as a High Court Judge, Sir Henry’s many achievements included chairing the Bar’s Race Relations Committee, which introduced racial awareness training for English magistrates and judges. As a judge, Sir Henry travelled widely across the world to speak about human rights, penal reform, access to justice and equality issues.
Sir Henry became a Patron of PBI UK in 2006. Explaining why, he said that: “PBI is a unique institution. When I meet the lawyers from Colombia and other countries, I am very struck by how single-minded they are. They put their clients’ interest first and foremost, long before their own safety. PBI provides them with accompaniment without which they could not do their work... they save them from being killed.”
Four years later, he founded the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, stating that: “The launch of the Alliance marks an opportunity for lawyers in the UK, individually and through their firms and Chambers, to fulfil our commitment to the protection of human rights around the world and help our fellow professionals.”
Sir Henry contributed enormously to PBI’s work with his expertise and commitment to supporting human rights defenders at risk through generous financial contributions, life-saving intervention letters, and making statements to protect the lives of legal practitioners around the world. In recognition of this invaluable contribution, Sir Henry was presented with an ‘Invisible Mandelas’ award in 2017.
The rule of law
December 10th marked Human Rights Day, when we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and celebrate the commitment of human rights defenders all over the world to upholding the principles enshrined within the Declaration.
To mark the occasion, we launched our newest film - Defending the Rule of Law: Costs and Privileges. This film discusses the fundamental importance of the rule of law, and of effective justice systems, in upholding human rights and protecting the vulnerable. It also speaks to the specific dangers faced by lawyers around the world who are threatened for their human rights work.
Being a lawyer is by no means easy in this country, but looking overseas puts things somewhat into perspective. PBI work in eight countries where being a human rights lawyer means daily attacks, threats and intimidation. We may struggle to precisely define the ‘rule of law’ in a varied and changing world, but the freedom of lawyers to return home to their families without being murdered is surely the first step.
Take a look at our short film on the rule of law and what it means to defenders working in countries where access to justice is a life or death matter.
In the words of Dominic Grieve QC, the film “sets out with great eloquence what the work of human rights defenders is all about. I would really like it to be compulsory viewing for politicians, even in my own country”.
The Sir Henry Brooke Awards are an opportunity to show solidarity with at-risk human rights defenders, and to raise vital funding for the work of Peace Brigades International UK. We were pleased to launch our end of year appeal at the event, which will raise the funds PBI UK will need to continue our life-saving protection and support. We are standing with defenders, providing them with the life-saving monitoring tools and tailored protection they need to keep going, and the international attention they need to be heard.
At the Awards, long-time supporter Dr Frederick Mulder announced the he would match-fund up to an incredible £10,000 towards this appeal to help empower human rights defenders, meaning for each £50 you donate, we will receive £100.
We ask that you join our match funding campaign today, together we can empower defenders at risk.