What we do for women prisoners of conscience

The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 10 states:

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

Helping to find the right lawyer for women at risk of becoming prisoners of conscience when they are detained, arrested, charged, and facing legal proceedings

The Vígdís Freedom Foundation supports women who face legal proceedings, are detained, arrested, charged or imprisoned because of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, provided that they have neither used nor advocated the use of illicit violence.

The Vígdís Freedom Foundation believes that every person, irrespective of where they are born, live or temporarily stay has the rights as set out in this this declaration.

There are many reasons why an accused woman could be incapable of defending herself, including a lack of knowledge of law, legal procedures, or analysis of facts. The Vígdís Freedom Foundation believes that a necessary condition for achieving a “fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal” is the right to be represented by legal counsel.

• Ensuring and organising international observation of the hearing against potential female prisoners of conscience

The right to legal counsel means that a defendant has the right to be represented and assisted during trial by a legal professional. The right to counsel is not explicitly included in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

• Partially funding costs for a legal defence

Not all countries recognize the right to counsel, nor is the professional proactivity and quality of a government appointed counsel always sufficient. If the defendant cannot afford a lawyer and the government does not pay the defendant's legal expenses there may be situations where a single individual must protect her rights against what can be a formidable foe. In these situations the Vígdís Freedom Foundation organises legal advice to women who, if convicted, will be “prisoners of conscience”.

• Endeavouring to always improve human rights for women and helping prisoners gain public recognition

Moreover, most prisoners of conscience are charged with spurious criminal offences. The legal counsel should be retained as early as possible in order to provide good legal assistance, or at least when accusations are made against the woman.

• Supporting women prisoners of conscience during their prison sentence, working with NGOs and international organisations, and providing information about female prisoners of conscience and their conditions in prison

If a prisoner of conscience is convicted, the Vígdís Freedom Foundation will continue to assist by monitoring that there be “no cruel and/or unusual punishment” (i.e. sexual harassment, rape, etc.) in prison. The foundation will continue to pursue the release of the prisoner throughout the legal processes and by other appropriate means.

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