Paris-based Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights (AADH) Celebrates a Year of Success

25 January 2011
Paris-based Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights (AADH) Celebrates a Year of Success

The Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l'Homme (AADH, or Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights), a pro bono clearinghouse founded in Paris, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. PILnet interviewed one of the founders of the AADH, Noanne Tenneson, who detailed the unique initiative of AADH and the challenges of pro bono work in France.

What's the story behind the creation of the Alliance?

The Alliance was created from several initiatives. First, the Human Rights Ambassador for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, François Zimeray, issued a report detailing that numerous French human rights associations had no access to legal assistance. Zimeray also recognized that young corporate lawyers had a strong desire to help others and to return to the roots of their profession.

Along with Zimeray's report, the Alliance was also created with the support of the head of the Ordre des Avocats of the Paris Bar, Christian Charrière Bournazel. A fervent humanitarian, Bournazel hoped to develop solidarity between lawyers and NGOs and to affirm the Bar's desire to promote the defense of fundamental rights.

Personally, I have dedicated my energy to bring together my professional life as a corporate lawyer and my fundamental values of justice and equality. I left my job as a lawyer in order to put my skills to use in the field of human rights and the rights of children. The alliance allowed me to find a way to pursue my aspirations.

Setting up the Alliance, which began in 2008, took nearly a year as we took the time to study the market, the coherence and feasibility of the project, and its different structures. Also, we compiled a dossier in order to win over law firms for the project.

Our founding meeting took place on April 27, 2009.

How did you determine the need for pro bono work in France? Does AADH work primarily in Paris?

The Paris Bar organized think-tank meetings with international firms, which have been performing pro bono work abroad for a long time. Several of the firms expressed their desire to become more involved in pro bono in France.

The idea of the Alliance attracted these firms because it:

  • - facilitates access to pro bono for them by centralizing the NGOs and associations in need of legal consultations;
  • - allows collaborators the possibility of working from their office on exciting and challenging cases, which may contribute to their compulsory continuous training;
  • - allows firms to protect their neutrality by handling cases for the Alliance and not working directly with associations, which avoids a conflict of interest, among other things;
  • - allows them to be in solidarity with their clients and to promote corporate social responsibility;
  • - constitutes the first French platform that allows firms to offer written consultations on national and international law to NGOs and associations. In France, there is a state-run system that allows disadvantaged people to take benefit from free legal consultations. However, no system had been put in place offering similar services to NGOs and associations.

The Alliance is based in Paris and has assisted its partners primarily in international cases.

"Time, professionalism, passion, and confidence will allow us to achieve our goal: supporting the causes of NGOs and associations who strive to promote and protect human rights around the world."

Tell us more about the clients of the AADH. Are you working with organizations or mainly individual clients?

In the beginning, the Alliance worked for institutions, NGOs, and associations supporting the protection and promotion of human rights and child rights (for example, Barreau de Paris, Ambassadeur pour les Droits de l'Homme auprès du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Avocats sans Frontières, Institut des Droits de l'Homme or FIDH, O.I.D.D, and Plan France).

Subsequently, the publicity garnered by the Alliance, along with our member firms' diverse competencies and their commitment to service, led the Alliance to work on broader human rights issues and to form partnerships with NGOs and associations dedicated to other causes, such as the environment or microcredit (for example, PlaNetFinance and GoodPlanet).

And today the Alliance has concluded eleven partnerships with NGOs, associations and institutions that entrust us with both litigation cases and legal research. Before the case goes to court, the Alliance may step in by studying possible channels of available recourse for victims defended by the NGO or the association.

How many lawyers and firms does the AADH work with? Are they typically representing larger firms or are they also solo practitioners?

The Alliance is constituted of 10 member firms, representing more than 10,800 lawyers across the globe. Of the member firms, 3 are French and 7 are French subsidiaries of international law firms. Although the majority of our member firms are big law firms, we have recently worked with smaller firms in an effort to promote pro bono work among all lawyers, whatever their field of competence, vision, or means of action. This diversity contributes to the prosperity and the durability of the Alliance.

What kind of matters has the AADH placed?

Since its founding, the Alliance has worked on twenty cases, primarily international in nature, accentuating a wide range of issues including: the death penalty, child trafficking, and LGBT rights.

In one example, our member firms worked on comparative legal analyses of juvenile criminal justice, with hopes of harmonizing European legislation and improving the protection of minors, all while bringing the bar associations of various countries together.

We have also dealt with death penalty cases in the United States and in Africa. We have conducted in-depth studies on the death penalty around the world (both doctrine and jurisprudence) and on channels of recourse in European and Inter-American jurisdictions. These studies have constituted a foundation for litigation by our partners in the countries concerned. Furthermore, they enable the development of educational programs in these countries while supporting awareness campaigns.

What kind of support do you have from the bar association?

The Ordre des Avocats of the Paris Bar has always been very involved with the Alliance, since its creation, as it was one of the Alliance's founders. Today, we have the strong support of the head of the Paris Bar, Jean Castelain, a strong proponent of the development of pro bono in France and the current president of the Alliance.

Mr. C. Charrière Bournazel, former head of the Paris Bar and President of the Alliance, proposed that a clause be inserted in our statute dictating that the President of the Paris Bar would always be the President of the Alliance.

Similarly, there are many administrators in the Alliance who also have positions on the board of the Ordre des Avocats and whose schedules are therefore quite busy. Despite their constraints, they are always available, and are very invested in the Alliance. It is an honor and a pleasure to work with them.

What are the challenges in expanding pro bono work in France and how will AADH work to overcome those challenges?

In France, pro bono still remains quite unknown to the general public due to the existence of a well-developed, state-run legal aid system.

Furthermore, it is not a part of the culture of French associations to appeal to international corporate firms for help. A certain suspicion and incomprehension exists with respect to the Alliance's work, even among our partners. We have seen for ourselves that some time must pass before some of the NGOs and associations that we work with will entrust us with their cases. When encountering legal difficulties, they often will not automatically call upon the Alliance for assistance. Time and greater communication is needed before a higher level of confidence is established.

To date, the Alliance lacks both financial and human resources. However, the support given to us by our member firms and by our administrators, who have both invested so much since the beginning of this extraordinary adventure, allow us to continue our work calmly and with much hope.

Time, professionalism, passion, and confidence will allow us to achieve our goal: supporting the causes of NGOs and associations who strive to promote and protect human rights around the world.