Counsel are the last bastion between the citizenry and an overreaching state. This role forms an integral part of the rule of law. On behalf of the Law Society of British Columbia, I add our voice to the international condemnation of China's detention and intimidation of human rights lawyers.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, China recently formally arrested 11 human-rights lawyers, and charged them with subversion. “The formal arrests of these rights lawyers on subversion charges means that the Chinese government now thinks that using the law to defend human rights is a subversive act against the state,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement.

The 11 are among the approximately 300 lawyers, legal assistants and activists Chinese authorities have detained since last July. Human Rights Watch characterizes the crackdown as “a comprehensive assault on freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

On January 18 a group of leading human rights lawyers from Europe, North America and Australia published a letter in the Guardian calling on President Xi Jinping to end the crackdown by his security forces.

China has publicly acknowledged the value of political freedom and the right to judicial remedy for violation of that freedom. In 1998 it signed the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- although it has yet to ratify that declaration, despite repeated promises to do so.

Signatories to that international agreement promise to recognize “the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear,” and to:

  • ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity; and
  • ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State.

Respect for human rights and the rule of law is the foundation upon which modern societies are built. Lawyers must be allowed to represent clients on matters, even if they might be contrary to the interests of the state, without fear of reprisal by the state. In fact, this is one of the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. On behalf of the Law Society, I have sent a letter to the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, urging the federal government to ask China to respect the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I also urge members of the legal profession in BC to make your concerns known to the federal government.