Members of the ABA often cite as one of the significant reasons for belonging to this organization our advocacy for the rule of law, for equality and equal rights, and for the independence of the profession and the judiciary. While the ABA President is our principal spokesperson when it comes to advocating policies to governmental officials, the Governmental Affairs Office is charged with leading and coordinating that advocacy and has done so since the association opened its office in the Nation’s Capital in 1957.
Most of the ABA’s advocacy efforts are, as expected, focused on our national government—Congress and the Executive branch—although, working closely with state and local bars, we also occasionally communicate policy recommendations adopted by the House of Delegates to state and local legislative bodies and executive officers. What is less familiar to most ABA members is the work of the association that involves advocacy to foreign governments. After all, Goal IV of the association is to “advance the rule of law . . . at home and throughout the world,” including holding “governments accountable under law.”
Speaking out through public statements and Rule of Law letters, ABA presidents frequently address issues of international importance. Recent examples include opposing sanctions on International Criminal Court personnel, supporting continued membership of the United States in the World Health Organization, commemorating International Criminal Justice Day, and expressing concern about the independence of the Guatemalan judiciary, the new national security law in Hong Kong, and the political situation in Belarus. Additionally, a more formal Rule of Law letter in July expressed concern over imprisonment of a bar association leader in India.
The international advocacy work of the association does not stop there, however.
Sections, under the association’s Blanket Authority procedure, also produce important advocacy communications to foreign governments and to the U.S. government on international issues. A recent example of the latter is the International Law Section’s “Comments on Draft Report of the Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights.” Plus the Antitrust Law Section and others often file detailed and valuable comments on proposed changes in statutes and regulations being considered by foreign legislatures and authorities.
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI) and the Center for Human Rights (CHR) routinely issue public reports containing policy recommendations directed to foreign governments on a wide variety of subjects. Since these entities cannot utilize Blanket Authority (which is reserved for Sections and Divisions), these reports go through what is effectively a notice-and-comment procedure coordinated by the International Policy Coordinating Group. Some of the CHR reports are general, like CHR’s report on threats to the independence of the legal profession in Tanzania and protection of human rights defenders in Colombia. Others emerge from trial observations, such as reports on judicial proceedings in Kazakhstan, Cambodia, and Cameroon. ROLI’s most recent report addressed illegal trafficking in wildlife and its relation to organized crime in Latin America.
In the end, abroad as well as at home in the United States, the ABA and its entities remain vigilant and active in defending liberty and pursuing justice.