Loud and clear: Bars pledge ongoing support for rule of law in Pakistan

Volume 32 Number 4

By

Few issues have galvanized the legal profession as much as this one.

From the president of the American Bar Association to many state and local bar leaders, there has been a strong response directed to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf following his implementation of martial law, which included the disassembly of the Supreme Court there and the arrest of thousands of lawyers and judges last November.

Since then, the crisis has intensified, with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, election delays, and continued imprisonment of lawyers. With the instability in Pakistan continuing, some might wonder if the show of support by American lawyers and judges—through rallies, proclamations, and discussions with political leaders—has had any affect on the situation.

Actually, the support goes a long way, says Rana Ijaz Ahmad, an active member of the bar in Pakistan for more than 40 years.

“The U.S. is the world’s model for all the core principles of democracy, fundamental rights, and the rule of law,” says Ahmad, who in December visited his son, a lawyer in New York. “So when lawyers in the country stand up for their fellow lawyers in another country, it has far-reaching implications. It sends out a loud and clear message to the governments of Pakistan and the U.S. about the significance of the rule of law.”

That was the idea when ABA President William H. Neukom swiftly released a statement of condemnation following Musharraf’s actions and called on bars to “speak out as forcefully as you can.”

The suspension of Pakistan’s constitution, along with the arrest of thousands of lawyers and judges, was a clear breach of the rule of law, Neukom says. “The ABA is committed to protecting the rule of law, and it was immediately evident that a strong response was needed,” he notes.

Adds Neukom, “Overall, the reaction among American lawyers was as strong, and as visceral, as anything I’ve seen in my legal career.”

Lawyers rally in support

The first bar-organized rally of support for Pakistan’s lawyers and judges appears to have been one held on November 8 in Rochester, N.Y., by the Monroe County Bar Association. Hundreds of lawyers, judges, and bar staff walked from the bar center in downtown Rochester to the federal court building, where MCBA President Thomas Smith and others made statements.

An estimated 700 lawyers attended a rally November 13 at the New York County Courthouse in New York City. The rally, organized by the New York City Bar Association, was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers’ Association along with other, smaller bars.

Nearly 700 lawyers, dressed in black, rallied on November 14 near the U.S. Supreme Court, where ABA leaders spoke in support of the rule of law and Pakistan’s lawyers and judges. The ABA also posted an online petition that gathered 13,000 signatures and was presented to the ambassador to Pakistan on December 13.

Also on November 14, several hundred Seattle lawyers gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse there and silently marched around the building in support for an independent judiciary in Pakistan.

Several rallies organized by metro bars in Ohio were held on November 14, including one in Columbus attended by 200 to 300 lawyers and judges. There were 100 who participated in a rally in Cleveland, and 50 in Akron.

After consulting with state legislators and carefully considering whether such a response was appropriate for a mandatory bar, the State Bar of Michigan opted to organize a November 14 silent vigil in front of the federal building in Lansing. About 30 lawyers attended. Elsewhere in the state, similar events were organized by the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association and the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association.

Other events were held all over the country; for more information on some of these rallies, see “Bar leaders support the rule of law and their counterparts in Pakistan,” January-February 2008, page 9.

Resolutions and letters

Rallies weren’t the only way lawyers showed their support; many bars passed resolutions condemning the actions in Pakistan and supporting Pakistani lawyers and judges, and wrote letters to the editor and to politicians. In some cases, these responses were bolstered by in-person meetings.

Neukom says the meeting in which key ABA leaders delivered the bar’s petition and discussed it with Pakistan Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani was a constructive one. It lasted nearly an hour, he notes, and helped the ABA reinforce its core concerns on this issue: restoration of the Pakistani constitution as it existed prior to the November 3 emergency decree, reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices and high court judges who were removed from office, and release of all protesters wrongly arrested during the state of emergency.

In its own strongly worded response to the crisis, the Beverly Hills Bar Association went so far as to say that Musharraf “declared war” on the lawyers in his country and on the independent judicial system.

BHBA President Marc L. Sallus, immediately upon hearing of the imprisonment of lawyers and judges, wrote to President Bush to protest and called on the U.S. government “to apply all appropriate pressure on Pakistan to restore the rule of law.”

After sending a letter to the editor to the Los Angeles Times and passing a resolution calling for the restoration of the rule of law, the Beverly Hills bar’s board also requested and got a meeting with the Los Angeles consul general of Pakistan.

On November 20, a delegation of six lawyers, including Sallus and Gretchen Nelson, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, met with Sayed Ibne Abbas. They presented resolutions, talked about the importance of the rule of law, and delivered letters for several individual Pakistani lawyers and judges.

It’s probable that the New York State Bar Association was the first bar to issue a resolution in response to the crisis in Pakistan. “Our House of Delegates was meeting when the unrest began,” says NYSBA President Kathryn Grant Madigan. “We passed our resolution on November 3 at the end of our House of Delegates meeting, just as we received word that the president of the [Pakistan] Supreme Court Bar Association [Muneer A. Malik] had been arrested.”

Two days later, the resolution was communicated to Malik. Muhammad Arshed, secretary of the Pakistan Bar Council, expressed gratitude to the NYSBA for its demonstration of solidarity and support.

Technology helps forge a connection

Due to the detention of most of the deposed judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and many of the country’s leading lawyers, it has been somewhat difficult to establish communication links between lawyers and judges in the United States and Pakistan.

Still, Neukom says the ABA has received many e-mails from Pakistani lawyers who have expressed deep gratitude. “And the public statements by bar organizations, as well as the petition and lawyer rallies, have been heard very loudly in Pakistan,” he adds.

Whether to organize a rally or to deliver messages of support, many bars found that technology paid a big role in their response effort. The Tennessee Bar Association, for example, held what it called “a virtual protest march,” where lawyers went online and signed a statement that was sent to the ABA.

Some bars put video clips of their rallies on their Web sites, and at least one made use of a popular consumer site. The Bar Association of San Francisco led a rally on November 9 that was attended by more than 100 people, including members of other area legal groups. The event was taped and put on YouTube, and can be seen at www.youtube.com/profile?user=sfbarassociation.

Ann Murphy, director of communications at the San Francisco bar, says this was the first time the bar had used YouTube. There is a learning curve, she says, but the bar plans to use it more in the future. “We believe that YouTube and similar ventures are an excellent way to quickly get messages out around the U.S. and the world,” she explains.

The Wake County (N.C.) Bar Association isn’t quite that tech savvy yet, says president Catharine Arrowood, but the bar, like many others, did get out word of its rally through e-mail blasts to members and the media.

“The newspaper estimated about 200 attended the rally,” Arrowood notes. “There were primarily lawyers, but many of our judges, including the chief justice, participated.” In fact, each of the seven state Supreme Court justices were in attendance.

Members of the bar walked through the Capital Square in downtown Raleigh to the steps of the Justice Building. Justice Patricia Timmons Goodson says it was a moving experience to see the bar coming toward them in silent support of their fellow members of the bar in Pakistan. The North Carolina Supreme Court perhaps feels a deep connection in part because a law clerk who is a native of Pakistan has a relative who is a member of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and is under house arrest.

There are similar personal stories throughout the country. For example, Javed Ellahie, a San Jose, Calif., lawyer who took part in the San Francisco rally, is friends with Muneer A. Malik, the former president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association. Malik earned his law degree from Santa Clara University in 1974.

“He chose to return to Pakistan because he felt that as a lawyer, he could make a difference in the life of Pakistanis and could use his knowledge to bring the application of the Pakistani system of justice into modern times,” Ellahie says. Malik stood up against Musharraf when he suspended the chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court.

He has paid a price for his stand, Ellahie notes; he was sent to prison, where he reportedly was tortured. He has since been released and is out of immediate danger.

“The general may have broken his body, but Muneer’s spirit is not yet broken,” he says. “Even from his hospital bed, he proclaimed his resolve for the rule of law.” As another example of the role technology has played in tracking and responding to this crisis, Malik’s proclamation is viewable at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uUU0-7pp1g.

Naomi Rustomjee, a San Francisco lawyer, also feels a deep connection, as she practiced law in Pakistan for 15 years. She spearheaded another technological effort by the San Francisco bar, in the form of a live teleconference from Pakistan held in December, featuring several Pakistani attorneys who were arrested and later released.

The linkup allowed moderators and audience members, who included students and well-known American defense attorneys, to ask questions about their situation. One Pakistani attorney said he was at a meeting at a lawyer friend’s house when he and the others were arrested, without warrants, and put in jail for several days.

“Here were all these attorneys in jail, and we realized that there were no rights for citizens anymore. There were no attorneys to get us out of jail, because we were the attorneys,” he said during the teleconference. (To learn more or to listen to audio of the conference, visit www.sfbar.org/announcements/pakistan.aspx.)

Should the bar be involved?

While there have been a few comments of concern about taking a political stand, in great measure, lawyers of all kinds and from all political persuasions have supported the actions of the ABA and state and local bars.

The Maryland State Bar Association, which made a strong statement picked up by the media, normally does not react to political or world events, says Paul Carlin, the bar’s executive director. Carlin expected some negative reaction but hasn’t heard any.

For mandatory bars, the Keller rules played a major role in deciding whether and how to respond. Along with the input from state legislators, one thing that tipped the balance for the Michigan bar was an unfortunate comment heard by the daughter of a bar staff member. While discussing Musharraf’s actions, a teacher remarked that the oft-quoted “kill all the lawyers” line from Shakespeare sounded like a great idea to her. “The story made clear to me that the situation in Pakistan was an important teaching moment about the rule of law,” says Executive Director Janet Welch. Two members have criticized the bar for having gotten involved, she reports, but many others have said they’re glad the bar took action.

The bar has been careful to keep the focus on the rule of law, Welch notes, and not to comment on international politics or what the response from the U.S. government should be. That’s the same approach taken by the ABA, says Neukom, who was emphasizing the rule of law even before the events in Pakistan (visit www.abanet.org/op/ for more information).

“The ABA has consciously not intervened in Pakistani politics, nor has it told Congress or the executive branch how to conduct foreign policy,” he notes. “Our strong concern is restoring the rule of law.”

Not a short-term effort

Rana Ijaz Ahmad, the Pakistani lawyer who is a former vice-chair of the Pakistan Bar Council, says it’s commendable and reassuring what American lawyers have done in support of their counterparts in Pakistan.

“It bolsters the confidence and credibility of the Pakistani lawyers,” Ahmad says. “[American lawyers] have done all the right things so far.”

But, he says, it’s important to keep at it and persevere. “This is the first time that Pakistan’s judges have exhibited independence and integrity on a matter that could possibly shape the future of the system of checks and balances and the rule of law in Pakistan,” Ahmad explains. “Therefore, I would urge the American lawyers to continue this struggle with us, the Pakistani lawyers, and not waver until we have accomplished our objectives.”

Neukom says that’s just what he has in mind: “The ABA will continue to [deliver our message] until the rule of constitutional law is fully reestablished in Pakistan.”

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