By Elizabeth Andersen
Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative
The field of rule of law development assistance is significantly more crowded than it was 25 years ago when the American Bar Association (ABA) launched its rule of law program—then known as ABA CEELI and focused exclusively on Central and Eastern Europe. While there are now many more actors, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) continues to make a distinctive contribution, in no small part due to the ABA in its name and the three Ps—prestige, people and practical know-how—that that affiliation brings to our work.
As several of the pieces in this Update illustrate, the ABA as one of the world’s largest voluntary professional membership organizations opens doors and gets attention for our cause. Most recently, the ABA’s reputation has enabled us to initiate an important new rule-of-law dialogue with the Saudi Ministry of Justice. In country after country, the ABA brand helps us get meetings and begin conversations with key justice stakeholders. The ABA president’s bully pulpit is also a powerful tool, as evidenced in this opinion piece by ABA President William Hubbard on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But our name doesn’t just get us in the door, it helps to connect us with the right people. Here we draw on an invaluable network of nearly 400,000 legal professionals and close ties to leading figures in our field. Thus, ABA ROLI can be represented by Judge Rosemary Barkett, who currently serves on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal as well as chair of ABA ROLI's Middle East and North Africa Council, to address violence against women at the Marrakech human rights summit.
Finally, the ABA has within its more than 3,500 entities experience and expertise on many of the elements critical to the rule of law—be it ethics, judicial selection, civic education or bar-association management. Taking advantage of this institutional strength, next week, we will host at the ABA Midyear Meeting a delegation of Sri Lankan bar leaders for the official signing of a friendship agreement underscoring our shared commitment to the rule of law and our mutual interest in continuing to collaborate on its promotion. The Sri Lankan delegation will also meet with bar leaders, observe ABA governance meetings and attend substantive sessions of both the ABA and the National Conference of Bar Executives on such issues as bar management, ethics, law office management, court administration, human rights and diversity. On the heels of the recent dramatic democratic transition in their country, they are eager to learn from the ABA’s experience in supporting the legal profession and advancing the rule of law.
I’m glad that the rule of law field has mushroomed in the past 25 years; there is more than enough work to be done. But I’m especially pleased that the ABA has committed its considerable resources to this cause, and I’m proud to do what I can to marshal those resources to advance the rule of law worldwide.