Criminal Law and Procedure

This Is Real Law: The Power of Knowledge: Publishing Legal Information to Fight Arbitrary Detention

You’re in a police cell. It’s dark, and it reeks of sweat and urine. If you’re lucky, you aren’t hurt. Even if you are injured, provided it’s not serious, you might have other things on your mind.

If you’re a lawyer, journalist or experienced activist, for example, you might be more angry or indignant than alarmed, especially if this is happening to you in the United States, where there is an expectation that due process will be followed.

Sadly, if you’re somewhere else—say, in some parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East or South America—you might have reason to be fearful, regardless of your condition or occupation.

Either way, there’s no lawful reason why you’re in custody, but you are. And you are at the mercy of authorities you might be afraid of and do not trust.

You wonder when—or if—you will get out. At the very least, you want to know if your legal rights will be respected.

Around the world every day, such scenarios unfold—more than we know. People are arbitrarily detained. Some fare better than others.

Ignoring Established Accords

Article 9 of the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” So, too, does the UN’s 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, along with the Universal Declaration and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, comprises the International Bill of Human Rights that came into effect in 1976 and took on the force of international law.

For all that, in many countries—including those that are signatories to such multilateral agreements, and have adopted local laws accordingly—detainees are routinely held without due process, and often for indefinite periods. And in many instances, individuals may be tortured or subjected to other abuse to gain information or a coerced confession, as well as to punish, intimidate and threaten other detainees and prisoners.

Moreover, such treatment frequently occurs while detainees are held incommunicado or in conditions that any reasonable person would regard as deplorable.

Defending the Rule of Law

Numbers for those directly affected by arbitrary detention are difficult to estimate; however, one needs only to watch media reports from around the world to appreciate that the problem is widespread.

Often where there is unrest or ongoing conflict, individuals are arbitrarily held—sometimes for political reasons, but also due to their race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Whatever the reason, the rule of law is suspended or ignored—at an incalculable human expense.

What may be absent when individual rights are violated through arbitrary arrest and detention is an understanding of the illegality of such actions.

Access to justice starts with access to relevant legal information, which is why many legal professionals, as well as business executives, policymakers, academics and others, are supporting efforts to advance the availability of local statutes, particularly in transition nations and those emerging from conflict.

LexisNexis is a partner in that effort. Through its Rule of Law Now initiative, it uses its state-of-the-art technology to collect, publish and disseminate local laws, making them accessible to all—so that individuals who may be detained, as well as their families and others, can act as informed citizens and professionals. For someone locked away in a jail cell, that can mean the difference between despair and real hope.

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