Lawyers occupy a unique and vital role in society, as guardians and champions of the oppressed and persecuted. The world has recognized this essential function by enshrining certain principles via proclamations of international law. For example, the United Nations has issued its Basic Principles on the Roles of Lawyers (1990) to "assist Member States in their task of ensuring and protecting the proper role of lawyers," and which "should be respected and taken into account by Governments within the framework of their national legislation and practice."
Among the more critical principles are the following:
16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
18. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.
A consortium of international human rights organizations, bar associations, and advocacy groups has released its annual report coinciding with the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, January 24. This year's focus is on Iran.