President's Message

Advancing the Rule of Law

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As lawyers, we are committed to the principle that society must be ruled by law, not by the passions of the mob or the ambitions of powerful leaders. The imperative of protecting and advancing human rights and freedom through the rule of law is rooted in both al­truism and pragmatism.

Our commitment to liberty and equality is driven by the ideals infused in our re­public. But we also have learned through painful experience that so­cieties not governed by the rule of law are more likely to engage in tragic violence.

As professionals, we are also called upon to promote the rule of law around the world for economic reasons. Trans­parent governmental institutions and stable, corrup­­tion-free legal systems not only protect human rights—they also encourage the clients of American lawyers to invest in and help develop economies around the world.

For these reasons, I believe the ABA’s efforts toward advancing the rule of law internationally are among the most impressive and important projects we support. And I am proud to say that our work is advancing to a higher level.

The newly created ABA Center for Rule of Law Initia­tives is coordinating and expanding the programming of the association’s four regional initiatives in Africa, Asia, Cen­­tral Europe and Eurasia, and Latin America. Grants from public and private funding sources have enabled the ABA to promote international judicial reform, help develop independent legal systems and legal education, combat corruption and human trafficking, and promote gender equality, among other activities.

The ABA’s increasingly important work globally is made possible by thousands of American lawyers and judges who give time and expertise to advance the rule of law and by an incredibly dedicated group of ABA staff. By con­ser­va­tive estimates, ABA members have contributed more than $150 million of pro bono legal assistance to the association’s rule of law programs over the last 15 years.

We have good reason to be proud of their great work and our successes, including our training of 700 Ukrainian judges on election law after the Orange Revolution, establishing legal clinical education programs in Cambodia, promoting the use of mediation in Mexico, training Iraqi judges, and working with the Ministry of Justice in Rwan­da to make the judicial system more accessible to women living with HIV/AIDS. The work of our Section of In­ter­national Law, the ABA Center for Human Rights, and the ABA-United Na­tions Development Program International Legal Re­source Center add luster to the ABA’s rep­utation as the leading voice on the rule of law internationally.

The ABA is also a convener of nations and individuals dedicated to advancing the rule of law, as demonstrated by the success of the International Rule of Law Sym­­po­sium in Washington, D.C., in November. The event brought together more than 400 judges, lawyers, government officials, philanthropists and corporate leaders from 40 nations on five continents to discuss how the rule of law can help solve our pressing global problems, from ter­­rorism and cor­ruption to disease and poverty. These lead­­ers committed themselves to fol­­­low-up actions that will help to strengthen the global rule-of-law movement.


As members of the global community, we must work closely with lawyers in other nations to advance shared goals and aspirations. In re­marks delivered to several hundred international bar leaders during con­ferences held last fall in Europe, Africa and Asia, I noted that the legal professions of the world are not islands, but one interconnected profession. Any attack on the independence of the legal profession in one country is an attack on the legal profession in all countries. And any harm to the people of one country because of the failure of the rule of law is harm to all of humankind. All law­yers must therefore stand united to combat these attacks.

As American lawyers, we must continue to remind our government that promoting the rule of law internationally must begin at home. We must do all in our power to ensure that America never relinquishes the moral high ground of adhering to the rule of law. Indeed, it is a necessity if our country is to be a credible champion of freedom and democratic values through­out the world.

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