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Above: Mr Issouf Baadhio/Photo: Anil Shakya

The UIA International Association of Lawyers is a global and multicultural organization for the legal profession. Established in 1927, it consists of members spread from over 110 countries and aims to promote professional development, learning and the Rule of Law while facilitating training as well as friendship, collegiality and networking among its members.

Last November, Mr Issouf Baadhio became the first person from sub-Saharan Africa to become president of the UIA. Mr Baadhio is also a corporate and state counsel in Africa, Europe and North America, was called to the Burkina Faso Bar in 1985, and to the Niger Bar in 1990, and has specialised in air, mining, oil, banking and telecommunication law. He has been fully involved in UIA since 1998, and has held various positions: Member of the Governing Board, Counsellor to the President, Deputy to the Executive Committee, Co-Director of Regional and National Activities within the Executive Committee and National Representative for Burkina Faso.

 The UIA President is a Corporate and State Counsel in Africa, Europe and North America, was called to the Burkina Faso Bar in 1985, and to the Niger Bar in 1990 and has specialized in air, mining, oil, banking and telecommunication law.

Mr Baadhio is currently in New Delhi to attend a seminar on Digital Economy and Law organised by the India chapter of UIA. He took some time out from his busy schedule for a free wheeling chat with India Legal’s Vrinda Agarwal. Excerpts:

Q. Tell us about the work and role of UIA.

A. UIA is one of the two most important non-governmental organisations of lawyers at an international level. It was established in 1927 and has presence in 110 countries. It has the structure of a collective organisation of lawyers and individual members. Our area of focus is the profession of law and the issues and topics relevant to the profession all over the world. The safety and liberty of lawyers is something we are very concerned about. We are also working in the field of learning and training of lawyers to improve the quality of the services they are delivering. We are also a member of the consultative group of the United Nations and they have sought our views many times. I am personally involved in UIA since 28 years, and have been a member of the board. Since November last year, I am the President of this organisation. I am the first person from sub-Saharan Africa after 1992 to be appointed to this organisation.

Q. How does UIA intervene in cases of human rights violations or denial of access to justice around the world?

A. We are an organisation with presence around the world. We have presence in five continents and in each country we have members of our organisation from the local community who form a local committee. So if anything untoward happens relating to the profession or if a lawyer is in danger, we immediately get involved. We are working with specialist and technical commissions inside the UIA and the commission of human rights to protect freedom and liberty of lawyers. We are very sensitive about such issues when the liberty and dignity of lawyers is in danger. We are absolutely proactive in such situations. We usually first go in teams to collect information, a process which takes time. After that, we try to discuss with the authorities in the country about what is going wrong and what is unusual and unacceptable, and how can the life for lawyers in that country be made better. In some countries, there are more systemic issues while in other countries it happens from time to time. But we try to intervene in all kinds of cases.

Q. Do you see a commonality emerging in the kind of threats or challenges that lawyers face around the world?

A. I don’t think there is a commonality as such. It differs from country to country and time to time. We don’t face the same problem in Egypt and in South Africa or North America. But we use discussion, persuasion, action and all possible means to make things better for professionally active lawyers and for human beings.

Q. Are lawyers from India involved with UIA? Can they play a bigger role?

A. India is a very important country for us. The number of lawyers in New Delhi alone is probably more than the total number of lawyers in smaller countries. We are sensitive about what is happening to lawyers here. We are very interested to know about how lawyers work here. I am here since last two days and had the opportunity to interact with the Supreme Court Bar Association. It was a very nice meeting. We talked about the future, the problems affecting the profession and how they can be addressed. But the participation of lawyers from India in UIA is very low and is absolutely not normal. My presence here is also to invite the bar associations of India and lawyers from India to become part of UIA. Now, we don’t have any country, we have a world. And lawyers must make a difference not only within their country but outside as well. I am hopeful that my presence here and discussions with Supreme Court judges and lawyers will encourage more lawyers from India to join UIA.

Q. Are there any issues specific to the legal profession in India that UIA is concerned about?

A. India is a great country and we don’t come across any problems affecting the legal profession here. But there are other countries where lawyers face a lot of problems. I belong to a very small country in Africa – Burkina Faso. So yesterday, I was very very impressed with the Supreme Court of India and the dignity of justice here.

Q. How do you think lawyers can be incentivised to take up pro bono legal work?

A. We are already doing pro bono legal work in UIA but we do it through other international organisations or commissions. For example, last year, our team in Sri Lanka did around 2000 hours of pro bono legal work for Red Cross. In Lebanon, there are a lot of children born in refugee camps and they don’t have any civil papers to establish their identity. This is also an area where we have provided assistance on a pro bono basis. For each country, there must be a structure because it is difficult to do pro bono work individually. Young lawyers in India can do pro bono work under the umbrella of UIA. The NGOs working in this space must also come and join UIA. This will help them gain visibility for their work and UIA can also support them in their work. The ratio of pro bono could be 5% or 10% of a lawyer’s time, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that he or she does pro bono work and does it under the umbrella of an international organisation. This way, they can gain more visibility and support.

As an international organisation we are also concerned about the future of the legal profession. We are watching closely the influence and impact of artificial intelligence on the profession. The big challenge is how to control it. This is a topic we are very sensitive about as it concerns the future. It is part of my mandate as President of UIA. The other area we are very concerned about is how to make international law more relevant. The problem is that international law is more for the State and less for the people. International law was created after the Second World War and is probably not very useful now. It is absolutely impossible for international law to deal with the challenges prevalent today. I think we need to transform international law to something that is in more proximity with human interests. We need a new rule of international law – which focuses on the human and not the State alone. What is a State without its people? Nothing! UIA is actively working in this space and plans to put forth this idea to the United Nations. It will probably take 5-10 years but the important thing is to begin.

Q. Tell us a little about your own journey. How was the experience of growing up in Burkina Faso?

A. In Burkina Faso, we have problems of terrorism and separatism etc. But it is a failed state with no resources or power to deal with the threat of terrorism. Countries like these need a new rule of law. Today, it’s impossible for a child coming from a poor family in Burkina Faso to avail a good education at school and university level or even have a normal life.

Q. Do you think the international community has done enough for Africa?

A. Not at all.

Q. How was your interaction with the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Bar Council of India?

A. We discussed how to organise training sessions for lawyers in India and conduct these sessions in Delhi, Mumbai etc. We are already conducting training courses in Jaipur, Kochi and Goa for the last 8-10 years. We need to expand our presence here and have close discussions and work in collaboration with the bar council in India. Without their involvement, we are unable to make much movement. The participation of Indian lawyers in UIA is something that I would like to promote.
We are also concerned about what is the life of a lawyer in a country. We had a discussion about healthcare in India. The President of the Bar Council of India told me the government is pushing to have a healthcare system for lawyers. It is not easy to achieve because it costs a lot. But Delhi alone has 100,000 lawyers. That is a huge number. It is an army. And the problems affecting such a huge number of lawyers cannot be taken lightly. So, India must make more effort and reflect about how it can improve the future of young lawyers in the country.

Mr Issouf Baadhio also spoke with India Legal sister concern APN channel. To watch the interview, click the link below

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