Posted Jun 01, 2004 08:30 pm CDT
It is a challenging time for the legal profession.
While men and women in the military make tremendous sacrifices every day to safeguard democracy and to maintain peace and stability, men and women of the legal profession are working hard to establish and preserve the rule of law.
For many people in countries worldwide, the rule of law is either something elusive or something to fear—as in their country the rule of law may be a means of discrimination and oppression.
The ABA’s largest rule-of-law project, the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative has, since its founding in 1991 after the fall of the former Soviet Union, sent more than 5,000 judges, lawyers and law professors and contributed more than $180 million in pro bono assistance to the region. These volunteers, at the invitation of the host countries, promote judicial independence; advise in drafting and implementing modern criminal justice legislation; train lawyers, judges and government officials on new laws; and support legal education and legal profession reform, among many other things.
In the rest of the world, the ABA’s Law Initiative councils for Latin America, Asia and Africa provide similar assistance in legal reforms and promote the rule of law throughout their respective areas. We are fortunate to have the distinguished participation of several U.S. Supreme Court justices—Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the Latin America Law Initiative Council and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Asia Law Initiative Council.
Another successful project, the ABA/U.N. Development Project Legal Resource Unit, recruits pro bono experts to help reform legal systems, support electoral bodies, strengthen anti-corruption measures and much more in countries such as Burundi, Pakistan, Rwanda, Vietnam and Serbia. The International Legal Exchange Program arranges an annual briefing trip for American legal professionals to exchange ideas with those in other countries.
Countries visited include Brazil, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Costa Rica. In addition, select ABA leaders spend a day of briefings with U.N. officials and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
In my capacity as ABA president, I was privileged to visit with lawyers, judges and government officials in Russia, Cambodia, Nigeria and Kenya to discuss legal and political issues of mutual concern. While each country is vastly different, they all had one thing in common: a need and desire to preserve the rule of law.
The ABA has contacted the Bush administration and offered to be of assistance to those working on development of the rule of law in Iraq. We have already been involved there informally.
Last fall, we convened a four-day training program for Iraqi legal professionals, focusing on constitutional reform issues in preparation for the transition of their legal system. Earlier this year, we held a follow-up program, involving Iraqi women and human rights leaders, looking at constitutional issues and democratic reform. Both sessions were funded by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
In November, we co-sponsored a high-level delegation of Iraqi women in Washington, D.C., to meet with administration and other officials and to discuss issues relating to women in the law, human rights and international law. The women conducted needs assessments for various sectors, including education, health, and social and economic development, with an eye toward developing action plans in these areas. The ABA has also been working on a program in Prague called Judging in a Democratic Society, which will train more than 200 Iraqi jurists over two years.
As lawyers, we take very seriously our responsibility to promulgate the rule of law. And we look forward to working with those in Iraq who seek to build a more stable, more secure and more just society, where the foundations of a legal system based on fundamental rights can not only survive but can thrive.
These are, no doubt, challenging times. And they require clear vision and a commitment of resources, fresh ideas and purpose for successful navigation. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” With the assistance of the dedicated members of the ABA throughout the world, we can help bend it a little further.