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New Amnesty Manual Aims at Fair Trials

FILE - An Amnesty International activist shouts slogans in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 1, 2014.
FILE - An Amnesty International activist shouts slogans in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 1, 2014.
Amnesty International has issued a new manual designed to promote fair trials around the world, and says it should have an impact even in some of the globe’s most repressive countries.

The thick paperback manual has chapters on such topics as the “Right to liberty” and the “Right to equality before the law.” It includes sections on dealing with torture, children’s rights, death penalty cases and military courts, among others.

The manual is aimed at lawyers and judges, but the previous edition, published 15 years ago, was also used by ordinary people to help them press for their own rights.

Amnesty’s head of International Law and Policy, Michael Bochenek, says fair trial problems are concentrated in repressive societies, but also exist in developed democracies. But he says the problems are most prevalent in countries in crisis.

“We continue to see backsliding year in and year out when it comes to things like how you respond to public protest, how you deal with political opponents, how you avoid reaching for easy solutions in an effort to solve what is actually a far more difficult social problem,” says Bochenek.

He says the manual is based on international and regional legal standards, and so provides a tool to educate judges, lawyers and political leaders, and to put pressure on them when necessary.

“I think there is a growing recognition of what it takes to adhere to due process. And I think there is more sensitivity than ever before and more opportunity for states to be held to account publicly than ever before,” says Bochenek.

He says no official wants to be singled out for using torture or for violating widely-recognized rights, even in the most repressive societies.

“It may be that in particular cases where we are seeing the most abuses, these kinds of standards that we are pointing to are going to be disregarded. But it makes a difference over time, in the way that more generally they respect the fair trial rights that everybody should have,” says he.

Bochenek says no single project, like the Fair Trials Manual, can end the many problems in legal systems around the world. But he says it is an important part of the effort to protect what he calls “one of the basic building blocks of life in a democratic society.”