The City Bar’s Commitment to Justice Everywhere – Carey R. Dunne

 Carey Dunne

President’s Column, October 2012

The New York City Bar Association has a long-held, deep commitment to human rights and the rule of law worldwide. Our membership and committee activity reflect that we are based in the pre-eminent global city, with fifteen committees exclusively focused on international issues and many others also including international issues on their agendas. In addition, our Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice extends the City Bar’s pro bono reach by engaging lawyers across borders to advance fundamental justice in countries undertaking legal and institutional reform. All of this is reflected in City Bar activities within the past couple of months.

On September 24th, Betsy Plevan, our past President and current Chair of our Council on International Affairs, and I were among the few bar representatives invited to attend the United Nations session on the Rule of Law. This is part of a major UN initiative to focus on the rule of law and its importance in all aspects of society. The topic was addressed by a number of heads of state, and a broad-ranging Declaration was issued. We hope to follow this up with programming this spring.

An aspect of rule of law that we have focused on recently is the use of arbitration to resolve cross-border disputes. Our Committee on International Commercial Disputes issued two reports on this topic over the summer. The first report sets forth recommended procedures for the recognition and enforcement of international arbitration awards rendered under the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States (the “ICSID” Convention). The second report addresses the “Manifest Disregard of Law” doctrine, which some argue makes New York a less appropriate venue for arbitration. The report demonstrates that this doctrine essentially is also applied in other major arbitral jurisdictions and that, both here and elsewhere, it is seldom used.

We continue to advocate for basic human rights on a variety of fronts. Our African Affairs Committee has been pressing to eliminate the use of child soldiers, and recently urged the Obama Administration to condition the provision of foreign military assistance to nations who use child soldiers on those nations’ taking measurable steps to eradicate the practice. Our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Committee wrote in opposition to a proposed law in the Ukraine that would punish publishing or using the media for the purpose of “promoting homosexuality.” We have also written in opposition to anti-gay legislation proposed in some African nations, which represents a disturbing international trend. Our International Human Rights Committee continues to address particular instances where lawyer and judicial independence is threatened, as has been happening with lawyers representing plaintiffs asserting their rights in China.

In our own hemisphere, the Vance Center is currently engaged in supporting the inter-American human rights system. On September 27th, we hosted the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, who discussed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Commission, based in Washington, D.C., promotes human rights through research and education and offers protection to individuals and organizations claiming violations of their rights by OAS member states.

This system is an active safeguard for basic human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere but is not well known in the U.S., perhaps because the U.S. has not signed the Convention or accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. Secretary General Insulza discussed the controversies brewing within the inter-American human rights system, with some states claiming the Commission exceeds its authority and others threatening to withdraw from the Convention which established this system. On the other hand, defenders of the system seek not only to maintain existing authority but to increase the resources of the Commission, which receives more than 1,500 petitions annually —on issues ranging from asylum in Ecuador to reproductive rights in Colombia, the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent, militarization in Mexico, and more— and faces an increasing backlog.

The Vance Center has conceived and launched an admirable initiative to support the Commission and the system generally. Over two years starting this November, it will conduct a half dozen training programs on the procedures and jurisprudence of the Commission and Court. Lawyers from major law firms in the United States, Latin America, Canada, and the Caribbean will participate in the program and then represent petitioners in cases before the Commission on a pro bono basis. The goal is to train 200 lawyers and have them represent as many petitioners over that period of time.

I look forward to participating in the November 15-16 training program that the Vance Center will conduct in Washington, D.C., along with an expected group of 80 lawyers. Through this process, we will become active members of the inter-American human rights system, furthering the City Bar’s commitment to equal justice throughout the world.