NEW YORK – The New York City Bar Association Tuesday bestowed one of its highest honours – honorary membership – upon Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, deposed Chief Justice of Supreme Court, says a press release. This award recognizes the Chief Justice’s efforts to uphold Pakistan’s independent judiciary. The conferment of honorary membership in Chaudhry’s absence represents the first time in the Bar Association’s history that the requirement of in-person bestowment has been waived. Justice Chaudhry is currently detained under house arrest in the aftermath of emergency rule.In September 2007, prior to President Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of the Constitution in early November 2007, the NYC Bar Association’s Honours Committee, chaired by US District Judge Jed S Rakoff, unanimously recommended Chaudhry’s honorary membership to the Association’s Executive Committee. Chaudhry had intended to visit New York to formally accept the award, but the ongoing political strife has prevented him from leaving Pakistan.Last spring, Justice Chaudhry was suspended by Musharraf, but later reinstated after the suspension was found illegal by the Supreme Court. In November, with the Supreme Court expected to rule within days on the legality of President Musharraf’s re-election, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution. When the Chief Justice refused to sign the “Provisional Constitutional Order” enabling the emergency decree, Musharraf removed him and many other judges from office and placed them under house arrest.“Today the New York City Bar Association has been obliged to deviate from a decades-old policy of requiring that honorary membership be presented to the honouree in person,” Judge Rakoff said. “We cannot allow the abysmal events occurring in Pakistan to derail the bestowment of an honour so rightfully deserved. Chief Justice Chaudhry has made tremendous contributions to the independence of Pakistan’s judiciary. We remain hopeful that the Chief Justice will come to New York in the near future to celebrate this honour.”The Association has also written to President Musharraf again urging the restoration of the Pakistani constitution and the release of those unlawfully detained and the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry and the other judges relieved of their duties since November 3, 2007. The letter was signed by Association President Barry Kamins, who said, “Lawyers around the world must continue to speak out for judicial independence and in support of those lawyers and judges who remain under detention in Pakistan. We cannot allow their plight to be overlooked, and must press our governments to do what they can to seek restoration of the rule of law.”The NYC Bar Association is an independent non-governmental organization with more than 22,000 members in 50 countries. Over the past 10 years, the NYC Bar has given honorary membership only seven other times, to persons ranging from US Chief Justice Rehnquist, to Chief Justice Bhagwati of the Indian Supreme Court, to Judge Thomas Buergenthal of the International Court of Justice who will be accepting his award, in person, on May 16, 2008.The New York City Bar Association was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.
Following is the text of the letter:
HE Pervez Musharraf
President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
C/o Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
3517 International Court, NWWashington, DC 20008
Dear Mr President:
I am writing once again on behalf of the New York City Bar Association to express our great concern about the status of lawyers, judges, journalists, and more generally the rule of law in Pakistan. In light of the events of the past three weeks, it is imperative that the rule of law be restored immediately in Pakistan, to ensure that the upcoming elections can take place under the supervision of an independent judiciary and press, both of which are necessary to sustain the democracy Pakistan purports to have. We therefore respectfully urge you immediately to restore the pre-November 3, 2007 Constitution and laws, to release all individuals, including but not limited to lawyers and judges, who have been detained in violation of Pakistani and international law, and to restore the rights of a free press.The New York City Bar Association is an independent non-governmental organization, founded in 1870, with more than 22,000 members in 50 countries. The Association has long been an advocate for human rights, particularly through its Committee on International Human Rights, which investigates and reports on human rights conditions in the United States and around the world.The Association, as an organization of lawyers, is particularly concerned about the current plight of lawyers and judges in Pakistan. As we indicated to you previously on November 7, 2007, the violent suppression of peaceful protests by judges, lawyers, university faculty and students, and other members of civil society seeking to uphold the rule of law, under the guise that these individuals had violated Pakistan’s Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance and Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”), was itself alarming. The fact that some of these individuals remain in detention or under house arrest – including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, and other leaders of the legal community, including Ali Ahmed Kurd and Tariq Mehmood – and that others could be arrested at any time with charges pending, is cause for utmost concern. These detentions and charges violate both international human rights law, which protects the rights of people to peacefully congregate and protest a government’s actions, as well as Article 16 of the Pakistani Constitution (as it existed before the Constitution was suspended). Exacerbating our concern is the fact that the Constitution, which codified the rights of these detained and charged individuals, has yet to be reinstated as it existed before November 3, 2007.The rule of law in Pakistan is further undermined by the continuing lack of an independent judiciary. Since November 4, 2007, no judges have been reinstated who have not sworn to uphold the Provisional Constitutional Order. Numerous judges who have attempted to maintain their prior oaths to the Constitution as it existed before November 3, 2007 have been relieved of their duties. These competing oath requirements undermine any claim that an independent judiciary is fairly applying the law in Pakistan; to the contrary, the oath requirements indicate clearly that only judges loyal to the present administration and its policies are permitted to interpret and apply the law.Finally, we are alarmed that a free press, necessary for any thriving democracy, has been curtailed in Pakistan. While Pakistan has reinstated the rights of several television stations and newspapers that were suspended after November 4, 2007, we understand those rights were reinstated with conditions placed upon the programming that will be permitted, and that other media outlets remain silenced.Neither the detentions of lawyers and judges nor the suspension of an independent judiciary and free press were justified by their peaceful protests in November 2007, nor are they presently justified by the recent assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto or the upcoming elections. To the contrary, these actions serve to depress democracy and heighten the likelihood that force, and not law, will determine the outcome of political and other disputes in Pakistan.In light of the above concerns, the Association will continue to support initiatives intended to restore the human rights of the Pakistani people. Pakistan has re-scheduled parliamentary elections for February 18, 2008, and in response to the US Congressional restrictions put on aid to Pakistan, your ambassador to the United States has vowed that Pakistan is “continuing to follow the democratic path.” We therefore respectfully urge, in the name of Pakistan’s “democratic path,” that the following actions be taken before the scheduled elections:ò Restore the Pakistani Constitution and laws to their status prior to November 3, 2007;ò Release all unlawfully detained individuals, including lawyers and judges, and drop ATA or other charges against lawyers, judges, and other members of civil society who have peacefully protested against the suspension of the Constitution since early November 2007;ò Reinstate all judges who have been relieved of their duties since November 3, 2007;and Reinstate the rights of all media to their status on November 3, 2007.Thank you in advance for promptly addressing these concerns.