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The Members of AED-EDL


Jacques Hamaide

As result of two years of preparation, the association ›Avocats Européens Démocrates - European Democratic Lawyers‹ (AED-EDL) was founded on the 30th of October 1987 in the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
At the initiative of the Syndicat des Avocats de France (SAF) and in particular of Gérard Boulanger,(1) a first preliminary meeting was held on the 15th September 1985 in the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels in order to consider the creation of a European association of lawyers with the aim of exchanging information on problems affecting the rights of the defence. The main purpose was to respond, at a professional level, to the establishment of a European area of repression. For the occasion, premises and simultaneous translation equipment were provided thanks to the support of Christian Lange, assistant of the Group of European Socialist Parliamentarians.

From national to european lawyer organisations

The nucleus of what eventually became the AED-EDL was the SAF, created in 1973 to organise French lawyers with a left-wing sensibility, the ›Republikanischer Anwältinnen und Anwälteverein‹ (RAV) created in the German Federal Republic in February 1979 at the initiative of criminal defence associations, the delegates of the ›Vereniging Sociale Advokatuur Amsterdam‹ (VSA),established in 1961 with the main objective of defending ›social‹ lawyers, as well as the organisation of  structured legal aid and the collective interests of clients or client groups, and finally, the members of the ›Collectif des Avocats de Bruxelles‹ set up in the early 1970s at the initiative of young progressive lawyers who reflected on the political function of law and intended to participate in actions taken to use law at the service of democratic causes. A second meeting was held in Lille from the 8th to the 10th November 1985 coinciding with the annual congress of the SAF. On this occasion, the assembled delegates adopted a preamble worded as follows:
»The association is constituted by the federation of lawyers’ associations of Member States of the European Community organised at national, regional or local level.
Associations may be members of this European association if they act with the following aims:

  • For the freedom of the legal profession,
  • For the independence of the profession with regard to all powers, and in particular, State power,
  • For the access to legal defence as a priority for the interests of socio-economically weak people and victims of human rights violations,
  • For the resistance to any extension and abuse of public power, to the detriment of fundamental freedoms.

This association intervenes and supports member associations in the struggle for democratization of all sectors of society and for the maintenance or development of a social and natural environment, that is, in keeping with human values.
It carries out its mission mainly:

  • By participating in the drafting and implementation of national and European Community legislation,
  • By joining in initiatives that pursue the objectives set out above,
  • By raising public awareness, through the various media, of violations of human rights and the rights of defence, in Europe and throughout the world,
  • By promoting the exchange of information between its member organisations«.

From the very first contacts, the delegates of the various lawyers’ associations opted for a structure independent of all political parties in the form of a confederation of trade unions or European lawyers’ associations, excluding any grouping of individuals. The aim was to »build together a common place for dialogue and action without compromising the respective freedom of each member, the objective being to strengthen the national impact of each component through an international grouping that takes into account the different realities, because the alliance of all must not lead to the alteration of the identity of each«.

Europe-wide self-organisation of lawyers

For this reason, the AED-EDL’s statutes protected the admission of candidate associations by agreement on their objectives rather than by examining their representativeness. Finally, a solemn appeal was made in Lille to all European democratic groups and associations of lawyers to join the ›union‹ in the process of being formed, in particular to contribute to the final drafting of its statutes.
It is significant to note that, alongside the core of the already structured associations (the SAF and the RAV), lawyers without organizational structure felt the need to set up legally recognised associations. Such was the case, in Catalonia, of the ›Commissio de Defensa dels Drets de la Persona‹ which was transformed on the 15th September 1985 into the ›Associacio Catalana per la Defensa dels Drets humains‹ (ACDDH). The ›Collectif des Avocats de Bruxelles‹ became the ›Syndicat des Avocats pour la Démocratie‹ (SAD) on 1st October 1987, and the ›Vereniging Sociale Advokatuur Amsterdam‹ became the “Vereniging Sociale Advokatuur Nederlands” (VSAN) on the 14th November 1987. Finally, the Italian colleagues formed the ›Confederazione Nazionale delle Associazoni sindicali Forensi d’Italia‹ (CNASFI), set up in 1988 to bring together local lawyers’ associations that had already existed for several years in major Italian cities.
The choice of Strasbourg to formally adopt the AED-EDL’s statutes also symbolised the association’s European roots and its commitment to human rights principles. However, the creation of the AED-EDL was not an end in itself for its founders, but was intended to encourage the emergence of associations in European countries in order to promote a real democratic life for the bars.

Basic principles of the AED-EDL

Article 2 of its statutes identifies the six fundamental principles that the AED-EDL has set for itself:

  1. »To promote the construction of a democratic Europe, with particular emphasis on ensuring a debate for resolving litigation, preserving the rights of defence, and harmonizing statutes and the professional practices of lawyers.
  2. To guarantee the independence of the Bars and their members in relation to any power and, in particular, to the State.
  3. To defend and extend the rights and prerogatives of the defence, and in particular the physical integrity and political, economic, social and individual freedom of lawyers at the international level.
  4. To ensure, for citizens and especially the most disadvantaged citizens or victims of human rights infringements, access to the law and to a democratic, modern and humane justice.
  5. To promote respect for essential rights and fundamental, public and individual freedoms, especially against the abuse of public or any other power.
  6. To develop European legal culture, in particular through the regular exchange of information, continuous study of subjects of common interest and joint organization of workshops for this purpose«.

The idea of allowing lawyers of different nationalities to meet within European organisations was obviously not a new one. The existence of the Council of the Bars of the European Community (CBCE), intended to play the role of ›super-council of the Bar association‹ at European level, obviously did not meet the ›militant‹ objectives stated by the AED-EDL. At the same time, the European Lawyers’ Union (ELU) was developed, but it was not based on individual memberships and did not meet all the principles defended by the AED-EDL. Furthermore, it should be reminded that at about the same time the MEDEL (Magistrats Européens pour la Democratie et les Libertés; European Magistrates for Democracy and Liberties) was born, bringing together various organisations of progressive judges from European countries.

Further growth of AED-EDA

As Gérard Boulanger (President of the AED-EDL from its foundation until 1993) recalled on the 27th of November 1988: »We are the pioneers of a great adventure whose objective is to build a Europe in line with our democratic ideals. From this point of view, we firmly believe that our specific function is to imagine the European defence of founding, by reason and in law, a European ethics of speech that guarantees our true role as European defenders. For us, the Europe of lawyers will necessarily be the Europe of freedoms and human rights. Together we have started to forge this tool«.
Subsequently, other associations joined the AED.
Thus, the ›Association Libre Abogados‹ (ALA-Madrid) founded in 1989 with the aim to safeguarding the fundamental interests of practising lawyers, by highlighting their role as guarantors of the rights of defence of citizens, by promoting rights and freedoms, in particular through the achievement of democratisation and the modernisation of justice, became a member of the AED-EDL in 1990.
In 1994, the Basque association ›Euskal Herriko Abokatuen Elkartea‹ (ESKUBIDEAK), created in March of the same year, with the aim of respecting human rights and the self-determination of peoples, joined the EDL. In 1998, the ›Iniziativa democratica Forense‹ (IDF-Italy), which since 1996 has brought together several groups of lawyers active in the defence of fundamental rights, aware of the paralysis and crisis of the Italian legal system, became member of the AED-EDL. Meanwhile, the association of Italian lawyers that had participated in the creation of the AED-EDL, the CNASFI, had ceased to exist. Subsequently, Italian lawyers created ›Legal Team Italia‹ (LTI) in 2006 as member organization of the AED-EDL.
Subsequently, other collectives of ›free lawyers‹ of the Spanish State joined forces under the name ALA in Malaga and Almeria, among other things to participate in the activities of the AED, as did the new association ›Esculca Xustiza‹ (Galicia) which joined the AED. In 2007, the ›Societad Andaluza de Juristas en Defensa de los Derechos Humanos Individuales y Colectivos‹ also joined the AED.
Although the presence of these organizations was in some cases short-lived, it is evidence of the permanent search of the AED-EDL for opening towards new associations and lawyers’ networks. In current years, lawyer associations from Greece and Turkey have joined the association. The presence of the Greek ›Lawyer’s Union for Fundamental Rights‹ (ΕΝΩΣΗ ΔΙΚΗΓΟΡΩΝ ΓΙΑ ΤΗΝ ΥΠΕΡΑΣΠΙΣΗ, ΤΩΝ  ΘΕΜΕΛΙΩΔΩΝ ΔΙΚΑΙΩΜΑΤΩΝ) and the Turkish ›Association of Progressive Lawyers‹ (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği, ÇHD) has enriched the work of the AED-EDL.
Other associations of lawyers in creation have preferred to remain associations with an observer statute, like the Bulgarian ›Avocats pour L’égalité des Droits‹ in 2006 and only last year Kurdish lawyers have joined as observers our work. Finally, it should be noted that in a personal capacity, many lawyers (from Greece, Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Turkey) have actively participated in our work in preparing our colloquia.

Conferences and Symposia of the AED-EDL

For more than 30 years now, despite the weakness of its resources and thanks to the dynamism and tenacity of those who successively represented the organisations making up the AED- EDL and assumed its management, the association has been able to pursue the achievement of its objectives.
The AED-EDL has made concrete contributions to legal debates concerning the practice of the profession. It has regularly organised colloquia on the role of lawyers in our society and the difficulties encountered in the exercise of the profession: Human rights in the daily practice of progressive lawyers (Maastricht, 1988), Rights of the Defence in Europe (Barcelona, 1989), Legal aid, a justice for Europe (Brussels, 1991), Meet- ing and Discussions between the members of the AED and the new European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg, 1999), The exercise of de- fence in Europe – an unfettered freedom (Bilbao, 2002) to cite just a few. Furthermore, the complicated relation with Judges has been addressed Independence of Justice: Judges and Lawyers: duo or duel? (Brussels, 2017).
Repression and the perversion of the system of guarantees has been a main issue in the association since its inception and various colloquia have been organized on the issue: The right of defence in the face of laws and special courts (Bilbao, 1998), On Prisons in Europe: Between Integration and  Exclusion  (Pisa,  2008). The hidden face of the criminal procedure (Napoli, 2010) and The criminal law of the enemy (Brussels 2012, organised with SAD). New tools of repression against social movements and social practices in Europe (Turin, 2018), has continued to be a main issue in the association.
Europe itself has also been a recurring theme. Thus, several symposia were organised to allow the exchange of ideas and experiences with a view to adopting common positions on topical European issues: Towards a law on drug use? (Brussels, 1993), Critical review of the Europol Convention (Amsterdam, 1998), a colloquium on Europol (Strasbourg, November 2000, organised with the Institute of Comparative Law of the Faculty of Strasbourg), For a European labour law: Control of redundancies (Barcelona, 2000), Colloque on the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Berlin, 2001), Europe - an area of freedom, security and law (Berlin, 2003, organised with the RAV); European criminal offences (Bordeaux, 2004, organised with the MEDEL). The AED-EDL also organised an information meeting on the International Criminal Court in The Hague on 24 and 25 May 2002 and took a position on the reform of the European Court of Human Rights (Naples, 8 October 2005).
Migration has always been an issue for the EDL, but has gained its momentum in the last years: Asylum in Europe (Colmar, 1994), On the Borders of Europe (Barcelona, 2012), ›Welcome: Migrants Outlawed‹ (Lille, 2016) und ›Rights at the Border‹ (Athens, 2019).
Apart from the theoretical contribution of the Colloquia aiming at the creation of common positions and to raise awareness on specific issues from the point of view of fundamental rights, the AED-EDL has also dedicated its activities to the defence of social movements. Concretely, the AED-EDL has active participated in the organisation and development of Legal Teams in Europe (Brussels, December 2001; Genoa, July 2001; Barcelona, July 2002; Rostock, June 2007); in addition, in Paris (November 2003) was held a working day of Legal Teams, including the creation of a legal Charta for European Legal Teams, which was adopted and later presented in Milan (2004).
Furthermore, the AED-EDL has taken up several cases concerning the fate of lawyers prosecuted or persecuted for their professional activities and democratic activists not only in the European Union – particularly in the Basque Country and Italy – but also in Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, Kashmir, the Philippines, Russia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Vietnam.

Protests and the ›Day of the Endangered Lawyer‹

The existence of a detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, which flouted all legal principles, also challenged the AED-EDL, which not only adopted a motion on the subject (Madrid, June 2004) but also participated in protest actions outside the U.S. embassies in Brussels, The Hague and Madrid (18 June 2004). This same type of joint action had already been used by AED-EDL member associations against the Tunisian State in 1997.
Following these protest actions, the AED-EDL, led by its Defence Committee, has finally decided to draw attention yearly to the fate of lawyers threatened in the exercise of their profession. It has set up ›The Day of the Endangered Lawyer‹ on 24 January, to commemorate the Atocha Massacre (1977),(2) in which 5 labour lawyers lost their life having been killed by fascists; an additional four lawyers were heavily injured. The creation of this initiative has gained recognition between different lawyers’ organizations in Europe and internationally as well. The first date on 2007 was dedicated to Colombia, but many other countries have followed since: Turkey, Philippines, Honduras, China, Iran, Egypt.
This yearly initiative in solidarity with lawyer colleagues all over the world is complemented with concrete trial observations in various trials concerning lawyers, from the so called 18/98 trial in the Basque country where lawyers were accused of participating in ETA organisation, to the numerous trials which have taken place in Turkey against lawyers of the ÇHD, a member organization of the AED-EDL, or the trial against politicians of Catalonia.

Europe’s Misdevelopments and the AED-EDL

In regard to its organizational structure, since its creation, the AED-EDL Bureau holds at least 3 meetings per year alternately in the countries to which its members belong. On these occasions, the AED-EDL has adopted numerous motions (more than a hundred in the first 25 years) on current political and legal issues. While the media influence of these was generally quite limited, they did allow useful discussions and even confrontations of ideas to clarify and specify positions in order to arrive at common attitudes. On the other hand, these meetings have each time allowed the main thematic commissions created within the AED-EDL to be held (criminal law, labour law, family law, asylum and foreign- ers’ rights, defence of the defence).
The evolution of the AED-EDL has taken place in a pragmatic way, pursuing its objectives, as Jacques Hamaide (President of AED- EDL from 1993 to 1998) noted in his moral report of March 1996 in Lyon: »For 10 years now, the AED has been operating thanks to the contributions of its member associations. However, I note that this weakness has not prevented us from achieving our objectives in practice... we had indeed set three main axes when the AED was created:

  • to compare existing judicial practices in the different countries represented,
  • to develop common positions on the legal profession in Europe,
  • to ensure the principle of solidarity between member associations, in particular through the presence of observers during symbolic trials.

Today our various associations arrive to the same conclusions in the face of the evolution of judicial situations and repressive policies in each of our countries. We are experiencing similar difficulties. Viscerally committed to the notion of independence and the right to criticism, our lawyers’ associations cannot leave the European field outside their struggles. It is precisely to address this concern that the AED-EDL was created«.
Michel Welshinger (President of AED-EDL from 1998 to 2004) subsequently pointed out at the end of his term of office (Barcelona on 24/1/2004): »The constitution of the AED-EDL was based on two challenges: the bet on Europe, the other on the structure that the AED-EDL has adopted a) We have been familiar with the Maastricht Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the creation of the euro and the draft European Constitution, b) We have refused to form an association of individuals to create an association to extend the activities of its national trade un- ions and to act as a counterweight to the large business firms that lobby in Brussels. The establishment of the AED-EDL has had a driving effect on member associations«.
And August Gil Matatmala (President of AED-EDL from 2004 to 2007), adding in his moral report of 21 January 2005: »The AED does not yet have the instrument we would like to use to effectively face the challenges posed by the deterioration of rights and freedoms..., by organising conferences, meetings between lawyers and human rights professionals, but also by actively participating in actions likely to contribute concretely to respect the fundamental principles that govern any democratic society, the AED-EDL has proved its usefulness«.
Gilberto Pagani (President of AED-EDL from 2007 to 2012), insisted, in his speech on 5/2/2010 in Barcelona, on the fact that »the economic crisis which leads to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, implies that the AED must be closely linked to social activity and remain in the concrete«. It is with this in mind that the AED and the SAF organised a conference in Paris in October 2009 on the development of labour law in Europe under the pressure of the (neo-)liberal economy.
Frédéric Ureel (President of AED from 2012 to 2016), has had the task to strengthening contacts with lawyers from European countries not yet represented in the association and adapting the association to a new stance versus the EU. In fact, what was once seen as a possibility, the creation of European Institutions, is now under enormous criticism from all the associations present in the AED-EDL. The dramatic decline in social achievements and the growing criminalisation of social movements in Europe, has brought the AED-EDL to face new challenges.
Under the presidency of Pascale Taelman (President of AED-EDL from 2016 to 2018), European countries reached a new repressive apex with the implementation in France of the State of Emergency, and even worse, with the adaptation of measures contained in this exceptional legislation in the normal legislation. Pascale TAELMAN observed: »Indeed, these measures are a pretext for repressive penal reforms intended in reality to perpetuate a certain form of state of emergency well after the non-renewal of the latter. All this was done without the slightest opposition within parliament, with only a few startles in civil society, because of associations like ours«.

»We commit ourselves to defend those who fight«

With more than 30 years of work the AED and under the current direction of Robert Sabata Gripekoven (President of AED-EDL since 2018), the association has not outgrown its mission.
The European Union has not kept its promises of creating an area of peace and rights, instead the developments in the last few years show that legal resistance against dwindling fundamental and social rights as well as against the burgeoning repression is still of utmost necessity.
In one of its latest colloquia, in Turin 2018, the AED-EDL presented a collective ›Statement of Lawyers for Fundamental Rights and Democracy in Europe‹:
»In the face of this peril to democracy and fundamental rights, we affirm our unwavering commitment to the universal access to fundamental political, social and environmental rights for all, especially the for most vulnerable.
We support the right to disobey and to revolt to the bad practices of governments, financial powers and multinationals. And we commit to defending those who fight.
As lawyers, we reaffirm our role in a democratic and free society based on the right of everyone to be counseled and defended by independent lawyers, whatever their actions, their social and economic situation. In a Europe of freedom, we defend equality of arms and equal access to rights and justice«.

Jacques Hamaide is a Belgian lawyer and was President of the AED-EDL from 1993 to1998. Headings and subheadings have been added by the editors. Translated from French into English by Mina Zapatero and Volker Eick.

(1) Gérard Boulanger (14 October 1948 – 8 June 2018) was a French lawyer and human rights activist. He was close to the Left Front. A famous lawyer, notably leading charges against Maurice Papon, Boulanger is also a human rights activist and union member.
(2) See