NEW YORK (Aug. 12)
Efforts to break off an agreement between the American Bar Association (ABA) and a government-guided Soviet lawyers group were defeated Tuesday at an ABA convention here. This followed a vigorous debate in which the Soviet organization was denounced by supporters and opponents of the agreement alike for fostering anti-Semitism and human rights abuses.
The cooperation agreement between the ABA and the Association of Soviet Lawyers (ASL) had been strongly criticized by ABA members and Jewish organizations because of the Soviet group’s reputation as a propaganda tool of the Kremlin. The ASL has been involved most notably in the publication of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic writings.
The ASL recently published, together with the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public, The White Book, which bitterly denounces Soviet Jews who seek to emigrate.
Delegates to the convention defeated a resolution to abrogate the accord in a voice vote Tuesday after the ABA’s policy-setting body, the House of Delegates, had recommended that the agreement be maintained. But the 433-member House is still scheduled to vote this week on two resolutions providing that “appropriate opportunities” be taken to raise human rights issues in discussions with the ASL.
The vote in the House of delegates to maintain the accord came after its proponents acknowledged that the ASL had a poor record on human rights.
“I don’t think that any of us are under any illusions about the ASL,” said Judge Frank Kaufman, a member of the steering committee on ABA-Soviet relations to the 433-member body. “If there’s anything in the world that is close to or even maybe worse than the Goebbels propaganda ministry, it’s the ASL.”
But Kaufman maintained that “if you’re going to talk on an organized basis with Soviet lawyers, you’re going to have to talk with the ASL.”
At an earlier forum, ABA president William Falsgraf said it would be “unthinkable” and “morally reprehensible” for the American lawyers organization to “pass up the opportunity to bring attention to human rights issues” in talks, made possible by the agreement, with “the top leadership of the Soviet government.”
The controversial agreement, called a “Declaration of Cooperation,” was adopted by the ABA Board of Governors two months ago to replace a much criticized accord concluded in May 1985. The new version includes statements on the commitment of both lawyers organizations to the rule of law. The agreement provides exchanges of visits, joint seminars, an exchange of publications and other cooperative activities.
DIFFERING VIEWS OF THE MODIFIED VERSION
Morris Abram, a lawyer and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, denounced the earlier agreement in opening remarks to the ABA convention as “an exercise in unpardonable naivete by ABA leaders.” But he said the modified version was “a somewhat better-drafted declaration of cooperation” than the original because it “sets the rule of law, human rights and the improvement of justice and legal services high on the agenda.”
“We should not scrap this admittedly small advance without putting it to the test,” Abram told the ABA delegates. He urged that the agreement be used to raise issues of human rights, including Soviet Jewish emigration, with Moscow.
But Patience Huntwork, a co-sponsor of the defeated resolution to abrogate the accord, said she thought the modified version was worse than the original, because it states that the ASL is “pledged to advance the rule of law in the world.”
“Actually, the Declaration of Cooperation is even more objectionable than the original agreement,” Huntwork said. “It gives the Soviets credit for laudatory goals which in reality are not observed within their legal system.” Huntwork referred specifically to the “goals” section of the Declaration, which attributes to the Soviets, among other things, the goals of promoting human rights through law and of assuring the highest standards of ethical conduct by Soviet lawyers.
Huntwork’s view was echoed by Morey Schapira, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, who said the modified version is “lacking substance and serves only the interest” of the ASL. But Huntwork said she was satisfied that her efforts helped to sensitize the ABA to Soviet violations of human rights.