The City Bar’s International Reach – by John S. Kiernan

John S. Kiernan

President’s Column, April 2017

The New York City Bar Association has long viewed its mandate and role as extending far beyond our city’s and our country’s borders. Our 18 committees and task forces directed to international subjects and the work of our Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice reflect our members’ profound interest in supporting New York’s position as one of the world’s leading centers for international business, diplomacy, and law. Our work prominently includes support for human rights and the rule of law, advocacy on behalf of non-U.S. lawyers who are harassed or persecuted for advancing their clients’ causes, engagement with the United Nations and its many sub-organizations headquartered in New York, efforts to facilitate resolution of multinational disputes, attention to the special legal issues that can attach to the pursuit of international business, engagement in national security issues that implicate international rights and interests, and fostering programs to enable undocumented individuals to protect themselves here in the U.S.

Our international human rights and rule of law work has included partnerships between the Vance Center and many of the world’s leading human rights organizations, and advocacy by our Committees on International Human Rights, African Affairs, Asian Affairs and Council on International Affairs, among others. Recent efforts have included communications with leaders in China about restrictive treatment of NGOs and crackdowns against lawyers, Turkey about human rights abuses following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Cambodia about environmental issues in the Prey Lang region, Colombia about including victims of human rights abuse in the justice and accountability process attached to recent peace accords between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the Democratic Republic of Congo about the President’s need to adhere to constitutional term limits and to stop oppression of opposition voices, and numerous other countries.

The Vance Center’s Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights in the Americas recently announced the launch of an “Anti-Corruption Initiative for Latin America,” which will organize private-practice attorneys to support governmental and civil society efforts to prevent and combat corruption in the region, and our recently formed Task Force on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges will be a focal point of attention to government or other actions that threaten to impede the independence of judges’ decision-making and lawyers’ advocacy for their clients. And the Vance Center’s efforts to advance professional opportunities for women through the Women in the Profession Program led to the 10th annual conference last month in Buenos Aires, and have spawned WIP chapters in 18 Latin American countries. Our African Affairs Committee recently issued a report on laws and policies relating to maternal health and mortality in four highly differentiated countries, and our Inter-American Affairs Committee has submitted amicus curiae briefs to the highest courts of Ecuador and Colombia advocating for marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Recognizing that New York City has the world’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans apart from the island itself, and that New York is also home to many of the financial institutions affected by Puerto Rico’s loan defaults, we formed a Task Force on Puerto Rico in October 2016 to monitor and comment as appropriate on the extraordinarily challenging application of the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act. The Task Force, comprised of representatives of a broad range of interested constituencies, has been tasked with trying to contribute to the difficult balancing of necessary austerity and restructuring of obligations following the defaults, the preservation of citizen voter and elected official hegemony in the face of a Congressionally established Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, the need to preserve basic human rights and minimize individual hardship, and the appropriateness of forms of stimulus to place Puerto Rico on a path to future stability and prosperity.

Our work with the United Nations has included extensive efforts to promote and applaud the greatly increased transparency of the most recent process for selection of the Secretary-General, communications urging the U.S Ambassador to support recent changes in the U.N.’s approach to the cholera epidemic in Haiti, significant assistance to the Special Rapporteur on Torture in preparing a report on the use of solitary confinement for prisoners around the world, hosting a gathering of legal advisors to the foreign ministers of many countries, and hosting a presentation at the City Bar by then-Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Our International Law Committee has also recently generated a model extradition treaty, to pursue greater uniformity in this form of agreement for which the U.S has non-uniform arrangements in place with over 100 nations.

More granularly, our Vance Center will soon begin accepting applications for its African Legal Fellows program, which places young African lawyers in paid fellowships at New York law firms and corporate departments, and our committees are working with the New York State Office of Language Access to enhance availability of translation in our courts. We recently held a public panel discussion on the future of the U.S.- E.U. Privacy Shield Agreement. Our Insurance Law Committee has been communicating with the U.S. Treasury regarding the Covered Agreement between the U.S and the E.U. addressing reciprocity in insurance regulations following the Dodd-Frank Act. A January program addressed the impact of ratification of the Hague Securities Convention on current practices under the Uniform Commercial Code in international transactions. A recent amicus curiae brief filed by our International Commercial Disputes Committee and Arbitration Committee in support of a motion for reconsideration of a Second Circuit decision regarding proposed enforcement of an international arbitration award against an asserted alter ego of the respondent led the Court to take the extremely rare step of significantly modifying its prior decision in explicit reliance on the City Bar’s arguments. Our International Law committees are also constantly engaged in offering perspectives about international legal norms in the context of domestic U.S. law, in an ongoing effort to ensure that U.S. law aligns with international law.

The City Bar’s view of New York City practice as requiring a clear vista across to other nations, and the determination of our members to participate in international dialogue, seem certain to continue to be a significant component of the City Bar’s overall dynamism.

John S. Kiernan is President of the New York City Bar Association