ABA urges UK to join human rights crusade

Newly-appointed American Bar Association president Jerome Shestack has asked the Law Society and Bar Council to help the ABA form a loose federation of Bars dedicated to fighting international human rights abuses.

The move has caused unease among some in the international legal community who fear lawyers are being asked to push US values onto an unwilling world.

In an interview with The Lawyer at the ABA conference in San Francisco, Shestack said he wanted UK lawyers to put pressure on countries with poor human rights records to establish legal safeguards to protect their citizens. “I intend to try and build a lot more solidarity on behalf of human rights among Bar associations,” said Shestack.

Shestack has worked extensively on human rights issues for both former president Jimmy Carter and the UN, and wants the ABA to take an international lead on the subject.

Shestack will seek a meeting with Tony Blair to discuss the subject when he attends the Bar Conference next month, and he will invite Cherie Booth QC to attend next year's ABA conference in Toronto, to enlist her support.

Shestack has already asked Bar Council chairman Robert Owen QC and Law Society president Phillip Sycamore to send an observer to the Malaysian libel trial of UN representative Dato Param Cumaraswamy.

Owen welcomed Shestack's call for a united legal front for human rights, and said he and International Bar Association (IBA) president Desmond Fernando were discussing sending a joint representative to Cumaraswamy's trial. “I share Shestack's view that Bar associations acting in concert can have an affect on the field of human rights,” said Owen.

But other foreign lawyers at the conference expressed concern about the initiative, fearing it may be part of a US drive to globalise law along US lines.

Inter-Pacific Bar president Susan Glazebrook said Asian countries were concerned that human rights and trade issues were being linked.

Glazebrook, a partner in New Zealand firm Simpson Grierson, said that there was a danger that western countries were trying to impose their concepts of law in a bid to build an internationally accepted rule of law. “Harmonisation does not mean colonisation,” she told an ABA session.

IBA secretary general Dianna Kempe told the session: “Nobody has a right to say 'My law is better than your law.'”