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Measuring the impact of our human rights work

In honour of Human Rights Day on 10 December, we spoke to people around the Clifford Chance global network about their pro bono human rights work and the impact it is having to help people to secure access to their basic human rights.

Read their stories below.

Leading LGBT groups to victory in Poland

Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram and Marcin Ciemiński​ from our Warsaw office are representing an LGBT activist who is suing a Polish politician for making homophobic remarks on television and radio. This case is the latest in a long series of cases that the Warsaw office has been involved in to improve human rights in Poland, including in relation to the independence of the Polish judiciary, including at the Court of Justice of the European Union, the rights of Chechen refugees, including at the European Court of Human Rights, and the safeguarding of child victims of sexual abuse during criminal proceedings.

Professor Jakub Urbanik, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Administration (the ‘Plaintiff’), recently filed a lawsuit with the Regional Court in Warsaw for the protection of his personal rights against the Polish Minister of Education and Science Dr. Przemysław Czarnek (the ‘Defendant’).

The action applies to statements the Defendant made in June on the television show ‘Studio Polska’ and in August on radio news programme ‘Aktualności dnia’ on Radio Maryja, where he said: (i) ‘Let’s defend ourselves against LGBT ideology and let’s stop listening to these idiocies about some human rights or some type of equality. These people are not equals of normal people, so let’s finally put an end to this discussion'; (ii) 'There’s no doubt that all this LGBT ideology arising from neo-Marxism (and this one from Marxism) has the same roots as German Nazi National Socialism, which is responsible for all the evils of the Second World War, the destruction of Warsaw and the murder of the insurgents'.

The Plaintiff wants an apology to be broadcast on the television and radio channels on which the comments were made. He also wants them to be published in two national daily newspapers, and a payment of PLN 20,000 to be made to a social cause.

Professor Jakub Urbanik is a nonheteronormative person, who is an activist in the protection of the rights of LGBT+ people and an academic teacher. He claims that the language used by the Defendant breached his personal rights and that this breach was unlawful, culpable and in gross conflict with the principles of social coexistence.​

Sylwia said: "We cannot agree to the dehumanization of any social group. Human rights are not a privilege that is arbitrarily granted at the whim of the authorities. The constant repetition of prejudices results in the exacerbation of harmful social divisions, polarisation and the growth of attitudes of hate. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided, let’s not be sorted, and let’s not agree to the harassment of anyone. We have to say a clear 'no' and 'I object'. We have to react when another person is hurt. This is our moral obligation."

Marcin added: "These are clearly homophobic and discriminatory statements. They are completely unacceptable in public, especially as they are spoken by an important politician from the ruling party, a member of the Sejm, who was involved this year in the election campaign of the Polish President seeking re-election. This is leading to a dangerous tolerance of hate speech and exclusion, as well as an increase in aggression. There is a need for both a public response and legal action by individual citizens."

Fighting voter suppression in the US

Counsel Patrick Jackson from our São Paulo office helped to fight voter suppression which has historically targeted minority groups in the recent US elections. 

The 2020 US elections demonstrated how widespread and systematic the problem of racial exclusion can be. These elections, and the political maneuverers leading up to them, were marred by accusations of widespread, targeted and disproportionate suppression of the votes of Black Americans and other ethnic minorities. The concerns expressed were that any such suppression of minority votes can and does compound the inabilities of these minority groups to attain legislation that helps reflect their interests across all areas of American society. 

It was with this concern in mind that Patrick and his colleagues encouraged Clifford Chance to support the Election Protection ('EP') programme coordinated by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights organisation that aims to secure equal justice for all through the rule of law. Since 2004, the programme has provided voters – on a non-partisan basis and regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, religion or identity – with comprehensive information and assistance, directly from volunteer lawyers, at all stages of voting. This includes issues ranging from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting votes at the polls, to obstacles they face in participating. 

Patrick and his colleagues were moved to push for this effort in part following the brutal killing of George Floyd and the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, which reemphasised the importance of making sure the rights of all Americans are included in and protected by the law. In the end, they were able to enlist more than 30 legal and non-legal colleagues at Clifford Chance, who together contributed over 800 pro bono hours. 

Historically, this programme would sit its volunteers in law-firm conference rooms across the country to answer calls from concerned voters with questions about state-specific voting laws or complaints about any voter suppression they're suffering. This has included barriers such as intimidating police and armed protester presences at polling stations, disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities being denied the right to vote, including because their registrations or IDs are improperly invalidated, and any number of other barriers. 

This year, the pandemic added an extra layer of complexity. Not only did voter concerns and potential suppression tactics increase because of a significant increase in mail-in votes, EP's legal volunteers were unable to sit together to coordinate in person the more than 27,000 lawyers and professionals who answered over 235,000 calls from voters around the country. This meant that not only were our lawyers under huge demand to assist voters through the remote caller software, our Americas IT team volunteered invaluable time and energy to apply the lessons learnt from working remotely. We were required to work collaboratively to help route inbound calls to the relevant legal volunteers, as well as making large quantities of information accessible to volunteers across the country to highlight specific laws, rules and issues. 

As the US turns its attention to the next Presidential term, Patrick commented: "I feel proud  that we've taken this step towards helping protect the interests and rights of all Americans equally. I think our work with Election Protection serves as a great example of our commitment to inclusion in any number of forms and the impact our firm can make across the globe. It's an important reminder that we must stand behind what we say and continue to combat injustice to ensure all voices, particularly including minority voices, are heard.  And that applies whether within the firm or more widely in the communities where we operate.

Advancing human rights through the world of sport

David Alfrey, a member of our Global ESG Board and an associate with the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group in London, helped set up the Centre for Sport and Human Rights; an organisation based in Geneva and London, which works internationally to create a world of sport that fully respects and upholds human rights. 

Sport clearly has a great deal of potential to advance human rights through its social capital, sporting values, and high profile. To deliver on that potential, the Centre starts from the premise that sport needs to walk the talk – to prevent harm from occurring, and to ensure remedy when harms have occurred. Initial discussions around creating a specific institution to work in this field took place in 2015, a time of intense scrutiny on sport for failing to uphold the rights of its stakeholders.

This proved to be a moment of opportunity to bring together sports bodies, sponsors, broadcasters, NGOs, trade unions and others, in support of mandate to launch the Centre in 2018. This process was convened by the Institute of Human Rights and Business ('IHRB'), who, as part of their mission, incubate new organisations, nurture their development and support transition to independent operators, allowing the IHRB to move to the next opportunity. The Centre is chaired by Mary Robinson, the former Irish President and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It has since expanded to include an Advisory Council of 47 organisations including FIFA, UEFA, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Human Rights Watch, ILO, ITUC and UNICEF. The Centre works to bring together different stakeholders representing different stakeholder groups in collective action to build toward safer and fairer sport. This has included the need to set the highest standards of good governance, transparency and accountability for the Centre itself and to promote the same across its participating organisations. In practice, it means the Centre develops practical tools for sporting organisations and advocates for sport to be part of international human rights mechanisms, and for human rights to be included in sports policy making. 

David was driven to support the Centre for a number of reasons. Particularly by the unprecedented opportunity whereby a large number of stakeholders, who are often seen opposing each other, were willing to work together collectively to advance human rights. In order to convene such a diversity of actors in a multi-stakeholder format whilst also maintaining the independence to itself take action, the Centre has required a robust structure. This is to ensure that it remains independent of political views while also being effective in delivering impact for those negatively affected by sport. 

The Centre is now delivering activities that promote gender equality and athlete rights in sport, a safe sport environment for children as well as vulnerable adults, and effective due diligence and remediation mechanisms to protect the rights of migrant workers. The impact that the Centre delivers to these conversations at a policy level as well as through partaking and leading consultative processes with governments and sports organisers has already had undeniable positive impact on sport. 

David commented: "Sport has impacted almost all individuals globally and has the power to be a uniting force for good in ways little else can. Sport can and should lead by example of positive human rights impact. It has been a very rewarding opportunity to have been able to support the Centre's work. They have become market leaders in starting critical conversations and collaborations with a strong focus on protecting victims of human rights violations. From the bidding process to the trophy, there are many whose rights are negatively impacted by sport and I am hopeful that with the continued work of Clifford Chance and the Centre we see everyone celebrating sport together". 

We partner to support our community by widening access to justice, finance and education. Our global community outreach and pro bono strategy focuses on providing the best possible support to our NGO and charity clients, whilst at the same time expanding the capabilities of our people and strengthening relationships, partnership and collaboration.

Find out more about our community & pro bono work here.