Human Rights Committee, Immigration Law Section, and Public Law Section
Adopted by the General Assembly – July 2, 1999
Be It Resolved that the Minnesota State Bar Association affirms its support of the Rule of Law in the international community and recognizes the need for an independent judiciary and for the independence of lawyers.
Be It Further Resolved that the Minnesota State Bar Association affirms its support for human rights advocates who are striving to uphold human rights and the rule of law throughout the world.
Be It Further Resolved that the Minnesota State Bar Association authorizes the president of the Association, or the president’s designee, to present the concerns expressed in this resolution to the attention of the Government of the United States and, when appropriate, to foreign governments.
The Minnesota State Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee, Immigration Law Section, and Public Law Section support the Association’s formal adoption of a resolution advocating the Rule of Law in the international community as well as affirming the importance of independence for both the judiciary and lawyers. The Committee also supports a resolution promoting the protection of human rights advocates throughout the world.
In 1975, the American Bar Association adopted a Rule of Law policy directing the Association to voice concern to foreign government about the mistreatment of judges and lawyers seeking to uphold basic human rights and the rule of law. (There are some questions as to whether the Minnesota State Bar Association has yet passed a resolution in this regard).
The American Bar Association has sought to expand the policy’s coverage to human rights advocates in light of increasing evidence that such individuals are targeted for persecution; especially in those settings where the organized bar in unable to address human rights issues.
Evidence has shown that governments do take into account the concern expressed by organizations such as bar associations. In light of these developments and Minnesota’s historical role in the area of human rights, it seems appropriate the Minnesota State Bar Association adopt the proposed resolution.
Adoption of this resolution will further efforts to strengthen the rule of law and advance basic human rights throughout the world.
American Bar Association
Report of the Board of Governors
to the House of Delegates
Be It Resolved that the American Bar Association reaffirms its support for the Rule of Law in the international community and its recognition of the need for an independent judiciary and for the independence of lawyers and affirms its support for human rights advocates who are striving to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
Be It Further Resolved that the American Bar Association authorizes the President of the Association, or the President’s designee, to bring the concerns expressed in this resolution to the attention of the Government of the United States and, where appropriate, to foreign governments.
In 1975 this House adopted a “Rule of Law Letter” policy, directing the Association to express to foreign governments the Association’s concern about treatment and abuse of lawyers and judges striving to uphold basic human rights and the rule of law. The Board of Governors recommends that the House amend the 1975 policy to expand its protection to human rights advocates.
The 1975 policy authorized the ABA President to express the Association’s concerns to foreign governments about circumstances in those lands which posed a clear and present threat to the rule of law, an independent judiciary and an independent legal profession. The policy has been implemented through the issuing of rule of law letters, a procedure which has raised the voice, visibility and credibility of the Association with bar associations, lawyers, judges and non-governmental human rights organizations internationally. Attached to this letter is a recent example of such a letter.
The Association has developed a great deal of expertise in this area since this policy authorizing the sending of rule of law letters was first adopted. Indeed, our direct experience suggests that there is a gap in the policy which should be corrected if the ABA is to continue to provide leadership in this area. Specifically, we find increasingly that troubling situations involving foreign justice systems do not involve solely lawyers or judges, but human rights advocates as well.
Often these human rights advocates – who can include lawyers and non-lawyers – are not challenging totalitarian authority in defense of a specific client; rather, these individuals are advocating for application of the rule of law for fairness and uniformity in courts and the justice system and for basic human rights to be extended to all persons. In many nations, where the organized bar is not able to address to such issues, these human rights advocates provide the only leadership and representation on behalf of the average citizen in demanding that governments adopt and respect measures which constitute what is internationally understood as the rule of law.
Because these human rights advocates play this role in more and more situations – and are often punished or threatened for their activity – it is the view of many in the human rights community that the House of Delegates should adjust our existing policy so that the ABA would be allowed to express our concern when these advocated are jailed, tortured or intimidated as part of a campaign to dissuade them from working on behalf of the cause of justice and the rule of law. The international Bar Association has already expanded its work in the human rights field in order to include the ability to express its concerns about unsavory actions against human rights advocates.
The House’s adoption of this recommendation will significantly strengthen the Association’s efforts to advance fundamental freedoms and justice throughout the world.