UN Human Rights Council appoints Margaret Satterthwaite ’99 as a special rapporteur

On October 7, the United Nations Human Rights Council named Professor of Clinical Law Margaret Satterthwaite ’99, director of the Global Justice Clinic, as the new special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Margaret Satterthwaite
Margaret Satterthwaite '99

The position was created in 1994 by the UN Commission on Human Rights in response to increasing attacks on the independence of judges, lawyers, and court officials and the perceived link between such attacks and human rights violations. Special rapporteurs are independent human rights experts enlisted by the UN to provide reports and advice on specific areas of human rights.

Satterthwaite’s mandate will involve investigating substantial allegations submitted to her and reporting her conclusions and recommendations; identifying and recording attacks on the independence of judges, lawyers, and court officials, as well as progress in safeguarding and enhancing their independence; sending allegation letters and urgent appeals to governments implicated in alleged attacks; identifying ways to improve the judicial system; and reporting regularly to the Human Rights Council and annually to the UN General Assembly concerning country conditions for judges and lawyers and themes relevant to the mandate.

At a moment when the rule of law and judicial integrity are eroding around the world—exacerbated by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and enduring inequalities—Satterthwaite says that the special rapporteur mandate assumes particular importance. Among the most pressing issues, she says, are authoritarian interference with the legal system, discrimination and stigma against lawyers and judges from historically marginalized groups, digital attacks and unlawful surveillance of lawyers and judges, pressure to implement untested algorithmic decision tools, and obstacles to incarceration alternatives and transformative justice.

The UN group that recommended her appointment commended her “clear vision and novel ideas for the further development of the mandate.” A more widely accessible legal system helps protect the rule of law, Satterthwaite says. “A system that encourages the active engagement of those who have too often been excluded is made stronger and more resilient to the ongoing threats of democratic backsliding and disaffection with the judicial system,” she says. “Finding ways to make legal systems more transparent, accessible, and comprehensible by everyday people would increase the credibility of systems meant to ensure equal justice for all.”

Satterthwaite, who has written extensively on human rights, serves also as faculty director of the Robert and Helen Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and faculty co-director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

Posted October 19, 2022