Human Rights

Honored Pakistani Lawyer Says Crisis Over Deposed Judges Isn't Over

  • Print.

A single lawyer from Pakistan stood at the podium, but the standing ovation from an audience of some 600 people that washed over him today at a luncheon sponsored by the ABA clearly was also meant for thousands of his colleagues back home.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, was one of two members of the Pakistani legal profession who received the Rule of Law Award from the ABA during the association’s annual meeting in New York City. The other recipient, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani of the Pakistan Supreme Court, did not attend the luncheon for personal reasons.

Both Jillani and Ahsan have been at the center of the resistance to actions by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to suspend the country’s constitution and place more than 60 judges under house arrest in November during an escalating political crisis as national elections approached. Musharraf stepped down as head of the army in December, but he continues to serve as president, although a newly elected coalition of opposition parties earlier this week agreed to seek his impeachment.

Musharraf’s actions triggered widespread protests led by thousands of Pakistani lawyers who marched in protest wearing their traditional black business suits.

Taking to the streets posed a major risk, Ahsan said. Until then, he said, “No one said ‘no’ to the president. The lawyers carried with them no weapons but the principles of our constitution.”

The ABA and other legal groups in the United States have been vocal in support for their embattled colleagues in Pakistan, and ABA leaders—also wearing black suits—held a march in Washington, D.C., to show that solidarity.

“The ABA had to do something in response to President Musharraf’s lawless acts,” said ABA President William H. Neukom of Seattle at the luncheon. “How could we not do something in support of our courageous colleagues? And how could we not honor those judges and lawyers?”

Ahsan cautioned that the crisis in Pakistan is far from over, noting that many Pakistani judges have yet to be reinstated. Jillani was to preside over a case to decide whether to reinstate the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court, but was himself deposed and placed under house arrest (and later released) when he refused to take a loyalty oath.

The stakes will get higher the longer the crisis drags on, Ahsan said. “People gradually lose their commitment to the constitutional system, and they become apathetic about its survival,” he said. “Thus are crucial battles lost, and thus are crucial battles being lost.”

Earlier: “Pakistan Lawyers & Judges to Receive ABA Rule of Law Award” “Ousted Pakistan Appellate Judges to be Restored to Office” “Lawyers March in Solidarity with Jailed Pakistani Colleagues”

Annual Meeting 2008:

Read more news from the ABA Annual Meeting.

See candid photographs of attendees on Flickr.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.