by Bia Riaz and Curtis Cooper
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Fresh on the heels of the French referendum rejecting the European Union Constitution, a delegation of 31 members of the NLG’s International Committee attended the XVIth Congress of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) at the Bourse du Travail (Hall of Trade Unions) in Paris from June 6th to the 11th. The XVIth Congress, entitled Law and Lawyers in the Service of the People, was organized by the French Lawyers Committee with the help of volunteers from Droit Solidarite. NULL The Guild is an affiliate of the IADL, which was founded in Paris in 1946 as a network of lawyers dedicated to achieving the aims of the UN Charter through struggles against racism, colonialism, and economic and political injustice.
By the end of the 1980s, the IADL had become largely dependent on the Soviet Union for funding, and despite its lofty aims, it was largely a Eurocentric organization. With the collapse of the USSR, the IADL faced a crisis of finances and of identity. Capetown, South Africa hosted the fiftieth anniversary Congress of the IADL in 1996, where Nelson Mandela addressed the gathering. There, the IADL undertook reforms to bring lawyers from “the Global South” into the leadership of the organization.
The next IADL Congress was held in Havana in 2000, where Fidel Castro gave a “brief” two-and-a-half hour address to an audience that included almost two hundred lawyers from the U.S.
Working groups to continue after Congress
Prior to the Paris Congress, several Guild members voiced concern over the traditional format of the IADL Congresses, at which people read narrow, academic papers at commissions with little programmatic follow -up. Though this format did not change radically at the Congress in Paris, there was more of an effort to tie in the papers presented and discussions following to working groups which will continue after the Congress. The six commissions in Paris, and some of the major issues discussed at them, included: (1) UN Charter- “reform” of the UN, US disregard for international law, the IADL’s consultative status at the UN; (2) Terrorism- definitions of terrorism under international law, the abuse and repression of rights taken under cover of the war on terrorism; (3) Legal Profession – independence of the judiciary, lifetime appointment of judges, physical and economic attacks on people’s lawyers, deterioration of the attorney client privilege ;(4) Globalization and Human Rights – International Commission for Labour Rights (ICLR), labor laws and unions, World Bank actions and violations of United Nations treaties; (5) Right to Information- the need for media pluralism and the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society; (6) Protection of the Environment- deforestation, fishing, achieving economic and environmental justice.
NLG member Mirer elected Secretary-General
With over 70 people, including Supreme Court justice Y.K. Sabarwal, the delegation from India was by far the largest at the Congress. At 31 people, the U.S. delegation was the next largest. Though no justices from the U.S. Supreme Court were present, retired Michigan Circuit Court judge Claudia Morcom did attend, and presented a paper at the panel on the independence of the judiciary, discussing among other things, the Lynne Stewart trial in New York and the significance of international law treaties and their role in protecting lawyers and judges in the service of people. Among other NLG members who were featured at the Congress, Jeanne Mirer was the first women to be elected to the position of Secretary-General, the highest executive post in the organization, Marjorie Cohn chaired the commission on the U.N., Dean Hubbard presented a paper on labor rights, and Lennox Hinds discussed the “reforms” proposed by Kofi Annan for the UN. The U.S. delegation’s diversity was greatly enhanced by the presence of three young attorneys of color, who attended the Congress with the help of stipends provided by the International Committee.
Attendance by over 400 delegates representing 55 countries shows that the IADL is growing and changing and has sparked interest at a global level in the legal community. Although the six commissions provided participants with the opportunity to learn about pressing legal issues in various countries, the true spirit of the Congress could be felt in the halls of the Bourse du Travail and at local cafes where delegates spontaneously gathered to debate and discuss concerns and ideas for the future, not only of the IADL but also the progressive organizations in their own countries. A few of their perspectives follow: Attacks on Edre Olalia, vice-president of the International Association of People’s Lawyers in the Philippines and a first time attendee to the Congress, expressed his concerns over the rising violent attacks on journalists and lawyers in the Philippines. Mr. Olalia found the Congress to be very productive as he was able to meet a “healthy and diverse” mix of colleagues from all over the world. In his experience, the Congress provided a forum for the sharing of different ideas and political arguments; however, the common thread was the progressive drive to fight for people’s rights.
Pakistani delegate and prominent international human rights attorney Anis Ahmad discussed his concerns regarding the harsh governmental actions in Pakistan designed to suppress and control freedom of speech, and the use of the police force as a tool of oppression against the people crying out for democracy.
Elizabeth Woodcraft with the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a member of the U.K. delegation shared her experiences of meeting lawyers from all over the world. She was happy to see an increase in the involvement of women with the IADL. She was also pleased that this year’s Congress was infused with a lot of “young blood.” She suggested that in the future, it would be helpful to have more background information on the papers being presented and also for the organizers to provide a venue for delegates to congregate outside the commissions to facilitate sharing of ideas. Their own delegation of six was comprised of three women and three men, including barristers, solicitors and a law student from Northern Ireland.
T.M. Mohamed Youseff, vice-president of the Indian Association of Lawyers, stated his hope to see a unified, strengthened community of lawyers across the world to raise issues for the common people and to promote dignity and independence of the judiciary. Other delegates from India expressed their concerns over human rights violations in South India and the actions of the judiciary. Although the Indian delegation had faced many logistical and technical barriers in obtaining their visas and attending the Congress, they felt the overall experience had been productive and substantive. Present and future status of IADL After several days of impassioned discussions and gatherings, the delegates met at the General Assembly and closing sessions of the Congress on June 11th and engaged in high-energy exchanges regarding the present and future status of the IADL. Although the Congress was visibly diverse, many delegates expressed their desire to see even more gender, ethnic and national diversity in the composition of the delegations and in the governing Bureau. Delegates also examined the resolutions passed at the assembly and stressed the need to form actual working groups to put the ideas into action. As a result of the final sessions, delegates left with a renewed energy and desire to work with their new-found colleagues for the benefit of the global community and with hope for the future.
Dickens’ famous opening sentence to Tale of Two Cities concludes, “…the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on it being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Much has changed for the better in Paris since the time of the Revolution- many of the palaces of the aristocracy are now museums for the public, health care is universal, and the metro provides easy access around the city for its inhabitants and visitors. Yet both on the global scale and within the United States, we too are living in a time of extremes- the age of the sole military superpower, and the age of the World Social Forum; the age of global warming, and the age of scientific advances which hold promise for all humanity. The improvements in the Paris of today were born of centuries of struggle, a hopeful reminder to those at the IADL Congress that, with effort, another world is possible.
Bia Riaz and Curtis Cooper are lawyers from Baltimore, Maryland who attended the IADL Congress as part of the Guild delegation.