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PILnet’s Global Pro Bono Awards celebrate efforts by individuals, law firms, and international civil society organizations that protect the public interest and advance access to justice. This year, in recognition of 20 years of growing one of the world’s most respected networks of pro bono professionals, nominations for the awards were welcomed from all continents. Shortlisted projects came from countries ranging from Australia to Spain, Moldova to the United Kingdom, Argentina to Poland. Award winners were announced in Budapest on 18 October, at PILnet’s 20th Anniversary and Global Pro Bono Awards Dinner.
The Award for Local Pro Bono Impact honors individual lawyers and law firms who have made an especially distinguished effort to use their skills for the benefit of their local community. Among six shortlisted projects, Norton Rose Fulbright stood out for their work with the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution. In support of South African victims of international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, Norton Rose lawyers worked to revoke the decision by the South African cabinet to unilaterally withdraw from the Rome Statute, which provided protection and held accountable those responsible for such crimes.
In pro bono and public interest law, as in many walks of life, effective collaboration can produce amazing results. The Award for Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest celebrates such work. This year’s winners, international law firm DLA Piper and the international child rights charity, UNICEF, excelled in their efforts to advance protection for children on a pro bono basis. This work was carried out in Bangladesh, where the partnership pushed forward child rights legislation, in Gambia, where law was reshaped to protect victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, and in Mexico, where the relationship between children’s rights and business was examined more closely.
Amidst increased restrictions on civil society organizations and a widespread campaign against migration, the need for pro bono lawyers in Hungary has intensified. Dentons’ Budapest office, in collaboration with three leading Hungarian law firms and 19 solo practitioners, stepped in to fill the gap through their work with the Hintalovon Foundation‘s Child Rights Clearinghouse. The project provides legal remedies to minors and interested parties in cases where child rights have been violated. The firm also assisted Greenpeace Hungary through the provision of labor and data protection compliance audits, leaving them better prepared to pursue their mission unfettered. PILnet is proud to recognize Dentons Hungary as the Pro Bono Law Office of the Year, and as one of the winners of the Awards for Hungarian Lawyers for the Public Good.
As impressive as great law firm projects are, the dedication of individuals also takes the power of law above and beyond. Tímea Kovács, PILnet’s Pro Bono Lawyer of the year, has long been an outstanding public interest law champion. In addition to her work with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, she visited detention centers and provided free legal advice to asylum applicants and arrested individuals throughout Hungary. Since 2015, as Europe has witnessed an increased migration flow, her case burden has intensified. She now provides legal advice to the most desperate asylum seekers. Despite a sometimes hostile public atmosphere, Kovács has bravely stood up for her values, for the public interest, and for the protection of basic human rights.*
Finally, in recognition of exemplary work for the public interest, PILnet’s 2017 Publico Award recognized a long-time defender of human rights. For his work with the Open Society Foundations, American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the League for Industrial Democracy, PILnet bestowed this award to Aryeh Neier. As Garth Meintjes, PILnet President, explained, “Aryeh Neier wholly and truly embodies what it means to be an advocate of public interest law.”
In a video message from Neier in acceptance of the award, he reflects on his career: “My experience in efforts to protect rights is that one does not achieve permanent victories. The struggle hast to be repeated, fought over and over again.” These words make PILnet’s mission clear. It is now up to us to take the fight forward.
Watch Aryeh’s full acceptance speech in the video here.
*Dentons Hungary and Tímea Kovács will be recognized at an official awards ceremony taking place at the Hungarian Supreme Court on 11 November, in recognition of National Lawyers’ Day.