The International Rule of Law Exchange

It is telling that Asma Jahngir's statement (reproduced below in Anil's latest post) calls on "representatives of bar associations" around the world to "approach their governments to pressure the government of Pakistan to release all lawyers and judges and immediately provide access to" several prominent lawyers, rather than asking for the assistance of the International Rule of Law Exchange---the international organization that protects lawyers and judges the world over in much the same way as the International Freedom of Expression Exchange does its best to bring pressure on governments and others that limit press freedom by harassing, arresting and otherwise mistreating journalists.

Jahngir could not appeal to the International Rule of Law Exchange because there does not appear to be any such organization. There is something called the International Union of Lawyers (Union Internationale des Avocats), but that is, so far as I can tell, an organization whose human rights focus, to the extent that it has one, is on "defence of the defense," i.e., protection of the ability of lawyers to defend people charged with crimes. That is an important job for an international organization of lawyers, to be sure, but it's not the only job. And the Union doesn't seem to be active on the current situation in Pakistan. Ditto for the International Bar Association, which is an international organization of international lawyers.

I'm not so naive as to suppose that the existence of an International Federation of Lawyers would have been the key to stopping Musharraf's dissolution of the legal regime in Pakistan. Obviously, pressure (or the lack of pressure) from governments will almost always make a bigger difference in cases of this sort. But I do think that a concentrated effort to bring attention to how governments are preventing lawyers from doing their job---and thus undermining the rule of law---could play some role in strengthening the civil society institutions that are crucial to a functioning liberal democracy.

Here in the U.S., the American Bar Association issued a strong letter on Tuesday, and comparable organizations elsewhere have issued similar statements. I concur in these statements but I doubt that any existing organization has the institutional capacity to do the ground-level and PR work that's needed. Whether the job could be done by the retooling of some existing organization, by pooling the efforts of existing organizations under some international umbrella, or requires a new organization is not for me to say. I just find it notable that the need is not currently being filled.

Posted by Mike Dorf