President's Message

American Lawyers Serve Abroad

The ABA is making a difference in more than 40 nations around the world

Posted Mar 18, 2007 6:55 AM CDT
By Karen J. Mathis

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The founders of the ABA’s Cen­­tral Eu­ropean and Eurasian Law Initiative, Ho­mer Moyer and Sandy D’Alemberte, had an un­shakable faith in the will­ingness of American lawyers to disrupt their lives for extended periods to help promote the rule of law in former Soviet bloc countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their faith was not misplaced, as the American legal profession answered the call to service, and continues to do so 17 years after CEELI’s creation in 1990.

Today, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, com­prising CEELI and its sister initiatives, has rep­­resentatives in more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Latin Amer­ica and the Middle East. The program receives rough­ly $35 million a year in grant funds.

Countless lawyers, judges and law professors have spent anywhere from one week to five years promoting the rule of law in developing countries, most of them on a pro bono basis. The growth and success of these programs vividly demonstrate that individuals in the Amer­i­can legal profession yearn to make a difference and to give back to their communities, whether they de­fine their community as their hometown or, increasingly, the entire globe.

World Tour

Over the past few months, i have had the privilege of seeing firsthand how effective these American lawyers are at transmitting their know-how and providing inspiration to host-country legal professionals, some of whom risk their careers and physical well-being to press for reforms in their countries.

My recent trip to Ecuador confirmed the important role the ABA has played in help­ing to pass legislation combating human trafficking. The ABA’s training of police and prosecutors helped increase the number of successful trafficking prosecutions there from none to rough­ly 20 in a short time. I also visited a women’s shelter at which the staffers received ABA training on the psychological needs of trafficking victims and on how to pre­pare victims for interactions with police and pros­ecutors prior to trial.

In Armenia last fall, I met with members of a bar association that the ABA helped to create—the first entity to provide Armenia’s lawyers with a real voice since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. The ABA’s role in creating Ar­me­nia’s first functioning public defender system was al­so highlighted during the visit.

In December, a small group of ABA representatives—including experts from the ABA’s Center on Chil­dren and the Law as well as Laura Stein, chair of the ABA Asia Law Initiative Council—attended a youth-at-risk conference in China that was organized by our Bei­jing office in partnership with several Chinese organizations. While in China, I had the honor of signing a memorandum of understanding between the ABA and China’s largest bar association, the All China Lawyers Associa­tion, memorializing our commitment to work collaboratively on matters of joint interest.

The ABA’s programs in the Middle East and North Africa region are also producing important results. In Morocco, for example, the ABA helped create the first law school-based human rights clinic in that region.

We salute the efforts of American lawyers who have set aside work and family obligations to answer the call to service overseas. De­spite the hardships they endure in order to serve, they invariably tout their service as the most satisfying professional experience of their legal careers.

For more information on the Rule of Law Initiative, visit abanet.org/rol.

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