NEW YORK— Today the New York City Bar Association bestowed one of itshighest honors—honorary membership—upon Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice. This award recognizes the Chief Justice's efforts to uphold Pakistan's independent judiciary.
The conferment of honorary membership in Chaudhry's absence representsthe first time in the Bar Association's history that the requirement of in-person bestowment has been waived. Chaudhry is currentlydetained under house arrest in the aftermath of Pakistan's emergencyrule.
In September 2007, prior to President Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the Pakistani Constitution in early November 2007, the NYC BarAssociation's Honors Committee, chaired by U.S. District Judge Jed S.Rakoff, unanimously recommended Chaudhry's honorary membership to theAssociation's Executive Committee. Chaudhry had intended to visit NewYork to formally accept the award, but the ongoing political strifehas prevented him from leaving Pakistan.
Last spring Chief Justice Chaudhry was suspended by Musharraf, but later reinstated after the suspension was found illegal by Pakistan's Supreme Court. In November, with the Supreme Court expected to rulewithin days on the legality of President Musharraf's re-election, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Pakistani 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 housearrest.
"Today the New York City Bar Association has been obliged to deviatefrom a decades-old policy of requiring that honorary membership be presented to the honoree in person," Judge Rakoff said. "We cannot allow the abysmal events occurring in Pakistan to derail the bestowment of an honor 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 honor."
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 remainunder 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 U.S. 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 (www.nycbar.org) 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.