Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lawyers Urged to Act or Allow Dictatorship to Prevail

Banjul, The Gambia (TNBES) Members of the Gambia Bar Association have expressed the need to execute their moral mandate to stand against infringements on the rights and freedom of the people in The Gambia other wise allow prevalence of dictatorship in the country.

 This came on the heels of a debate on whether or not they should speak-up when rights are violated, following a provoking presentation on “Ethics” by Professor Kim Economides special guest of the Bar on the occasion of the Bar week.

Through Ms. Amie Bensouda, President of the Bar Association had said that the Bar is not a political body that shall raise alarm when human rights are violated, especially if not approached, deliberations of day-long of
the Bar Week in progress at the Kairaba Beach Hotel signaled that lawyers are poised to live up to the challenges.

One common denominator that unites legal practitioners anywhere is upholding the fundamental values of human rights and freedom, says Professor Kim Economides. In reaction, lawyer Sheriff Tambedou, a senior lawyer has said that it is important to secure public confidence but added that people trend to unfairly look onto lawyers to stand for them.

However, a female lawyer Sagarr Jahateh said human rights, especially freedom of speech, is being eroded in the country. She said the Bar needs to stand for the people, calling on her colleagues to set up a unit at
the Bar to handle cases of human rights. 
“I believe when it comes to human rights, the Bar should raise an alarm either by press releases or educating the people”, said Surahata Janneh, a dozen of the Gambia Bar. “It has been a trend that we consider
ourselves not a trade union, but we should at all times uphold the rule of law”, citing the example of Nigerian lawyer Femi Felani, who he said exerted himself in the defence of human rights through his career, even during the military regimes in Nigeria.

Mrs. Awa Ceesay-Sabally, also a senior lawyer shared with her colleagues her involvement in human rights issues. She explained that in April 2001, some Bar members had to get instructions to represent a group of
students who were detained following a student strike.

“We went to the court, sought for their release and the Magistrate did not only declare their detention illegal, but ordered their release. For me that was when my activism started”, she told her colleagues.

Mrs. Sabally said she was also involved with the journalist – Gambia Press Union – “and we were able to put aside the Media Commission Bill.” She observed that there are many local statues that are not ideal in a
democratic country, which she added can be declared null and void if fought for at the courts. She was however quick to add, “It cannot be a one man crusade; it must take will and courage to do so”, adding that “we must do it together or allow dictatorship to prevail”.

Professor Kim in his intervention reminded lawyers that it is an essential element of the legal profession to stand-out and be counted. He made reference to two Pakistani lawyers, whose protest against the unconstitutional removal of the Chief Justice caused them to pay dearly.

“I have pictures of those lawyers with their bloodstained cloths,” he said. This he said, is not unique in Pakistan, noting that the common denominator that unites legal practitioners anywhere is upholding the
fundamental values of human rights and freedom. “We teach law in a technical way; represent people at court in a technical way and we use the term justice, but do we engage in justice?” he quiz. “A good lawyer is competent not a moral lawyer. These are essential elements to understand otherwise it does not
distinguish a lawyer and a second-hand car seller,” he said.

The President of the Bar Association Amie Bensouda said public expectation on them is not realistic, adding that members of the Bar have over the years done good jobs by representing people at court even without
being paid. But where to draw the line when such matters arise she said has  been the problem.

“When should the Bar make statements on current issues which can be seen political? How far should we go?” she queried. “Because of the lack of this precision, it is difficult to make a choice. We should have a rule to state as to what the executive can do when such critical issues arise. VOL:2 ISSN: 64

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