SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 13)
The American Bar Association (ABA) resolved in a voice vote at its national convention here Wednesday that human rights will be on the agenda during any meetings it has with a Soviet lawyers group.
Those human rights issues will include permission to monitor trials, release of political prisoners, an end to punitive psychiatric hospitalization and adherence to the Helsinki Accords.
These points have been stressed by Jewish activists pushing for ABA recognition of the plight of Soviet Jews. The activists also had urged the ABA to abrogate its two-year-old formal agreement of cooperation with the Association of Soviet Lawyers (ASL). The ABA declined to do so during a 156-32 vote on Monday.
Soviet Jewry activists said later that they were skeptical that the ABA’s position on human rights would have any effect on the anti-Zionist Soviet lawyers group. However, local attorney Mark Schickman, a member of the ABA’s Council on Individual Rights, which sponsored the human rights resolution, called it a victory and a “necessary step” toward improving human rights within the Soviet legal system.
Schickman, a member of both the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco and the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, added, however, that he will be watching the ABA carefully “to see what kind of progress will take place over the next year” in terms of willingness to raise the human rights issues.
Another San Francisco attorney and Jewish activist, Ephraim Margolin, downplayed the ABA action, and cited two other defeated attempts at the convention to abrogate or amend the formal agreement between American and Soviet lawyers.
Margolin and the other activists had been pushing abrogation on the grounds that the ASL is an arm of the KGB and not an equivalent of the ABA. He said there is clear evidence that many ABA leaders have been sensitized to the plight of Soviet Jews.
Patience Huntwork of Phoenix, founder of the Independent Task Force on ABA-Soviet Relations and co-author of Monday’s failed resolution, termed its defeat “a setback.” Earlier, she had charged that ABA leaders are more interested in economic opportunities than human rights, producing documents that showed high level meetings were held last month between U.S. corporation executives and members of the ASL, arranged by outgoing ABA president Eugene Thomas.
But. Huntwork added, she was encouraged that her group’s message that the ABA’s cooperative agreement gives undue legitimacy to the ASL has been sounded from other quarters. Those other quarters included Attorney General Edwin Meese, who said Monday that the ABA “should not be afraid to break away from the agreement if the Soviet group is using the accord for propaganda purposes.”