The Alexis C. Coudert Memorial Lecture - Introductory Remarks
The A lexis C. Coudert Memorial Lecture - Introductor y Remarks
David Nachman; Edwin S. Matthews, Jr; and Michael A. Cooper, Th 0
0 Lecture - Introductory Remarks , 11 Pace Int'l L. Rev. 3 (1999) , Available at: http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/pilr/vol11/iss1/2
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On December 10, 1998, former United States Senator George
J. Mitchell delivered the Alexis C. Coudert Memorial Lecture in
the Meeting Hall at the House of the Association [of the Bar of the
City of New York]. The Association took thatoccasion to bestow on
Senator Mitchell honorary membership in the Association in
recognition of his public service as United States Attorney, United
States DistrictJudge and United States Senator, and "in further
recognition of his dedication to the rule of law, international
human rights and the searchfor peace as evidenced by his pivotal
role in bringingabout a peace accord in Northern Ireland."
Senator Mitchell's Courdert lecture was the keynote address
commencing a two-day conference, coordinatedby the Association
Committee on International Human Rights (David Nachman,
Chair)and co-sponsored by thirteen metropolitan New York area
law schools and the Union Internationaledes Avocats, celebrating
the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
Good evening, everybody. My name is David Nachman. I
am very pleased to welcome you to the 50th Anniversary
celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tonight
truly is a celebration. Fifty years ago this very day the United
Nations adopted the Universal Declaration.
In not too many words, this straightforward text sets forth
our common aspiration that each human being in the world be
treated with dignity and respect.
We have come a long way since December of 1948. The past
year in particular has been a remarkable one for the cause of
international human rights. With the notable exception of the
United States and a few others, the nations of the world took
the extraordinary step of creating an International Criminal
* The remarks printed here originally appeared in the March/April issue of
THE RECORD OF THE ASSOCIATION OF THE BAR OF THE CITY OF NEW York, vol. 54, no.
2 at 137 and has been reproduced here with its permission.
Court designed to ensure that crimes against humanity never
again go unpunished, and perhaps to create enough of a
deterrent that the kind of crimes that took place in Cambodia and
Bosnia and Rwanda are never committed again. Just a few
weeks ago, the Law Lords of Great Britain ruled that former
Chilean President Pinochet does not enjoy immunity for the
horrible offenses of which he stands accused.
You know that human rights issues are firmly on the public
agenda when even The Economist magazine runs a special
survey on human rights law entitled "The World Is Watching."
Having said all that, there remains a tremendous amount
of work to be done, and much of it is lawyers' work: getting the
U.S. Senate to ratify the principal human rights covenants and
treaties, filling in the jurisdiction and procedures of the new
ICC, wrestling with the immunity and extradition issues that
cases like Pinochet raise. Finding ways to enforce the
international standards on working conditions that already are
embodied in ILO conventions, ending the traffic in child and slave
labor. The list goes on and on.
This Association, I am proud to say, has long played an
important role in many of these debates. The leadership of the
Association has been unfailingly supportive of this work, whether
it be our recent mission to Northern Ireland, our efforts to
expose and put an end to the systematic use of torture in Turkey,
or our recent report calling on the U.S. Senate finally to ratify
the Convention to End all Forms of Discrimination against
I would like, at this time, to publicly thank both the
Association's past presidents, several of whom are here tonight, and
Michael Cooper, our current president, for the support and
encouragement they have extended to the Association's human
rights efforts, including this conference.
I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to
thank Louis Henkin, who is here tonight. Just about every
lawyer in this city who has been involved in human rights matters
learned at the knee of Professor Henkin, and there is no one
who has advanced our understanding in this field as much as he
Tonight and over the next two days, we will explore the
origins of The Universal Declaration, where it has taken us and
where we must still go in order to make real the vision
contained in that Declaration.
We will hear from those who were there at the creation,
giants in the field such as Louis Sohn and those who will be
instrumental in the shape of things to come, people like Ken
Roth, Trish Armstrong and Winston Nagan. Foreign lawyers
will exchange ideas with Americn historians, diplomats will
break bread with philosophers, and one or two judges will be on
hand to keep order if things get too far out of hand.
A conference like this couldn't happen without the support
of many people and I would like to mention just a few: First, we
are indebted to each of the deans of the law schools that are
cosponsoring this conference with the Association; namely,
Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo Law School, Columbia, CUNY,
Fordham, Hofstra, New York Law School, NYU, Pace,
RutgersNewark, Rutgers-Camden, Seton Hall and St. John's. I would
like to extend a special thanks to John Feerick of Fordham, who
graciously offered to make Fordham's facilities available to us
tomorrow and Saturday. Thank you, John.
We are grateful, as well, for the work of Steve Hammond,
President of the UIA which also is cosponsoring this event. I
said UIA because I can't pronounce the name in French.
Perhaps most important, this conference would not have
been possible without a very generous grant from the Reuters
Foundation. I would like especially to thank Doug Curtis and
John Reid-Dodick, Assistant General Counsel and General
Counsel of Reuters America, who made this conference possible.
By the way, Reuters has mounted a very powerful photographic
display around the theme of this conference, and you will be
able to see that exhibit at Fordham tomorrow and Saturday.
So I am delighted that you all are here, yet I know you
came tonight not to hear me speak, but because of our
outstanding lecturer. I would like therefore to introduce Ed Matthews of
the Coudert Brothers law firm and Chair of the Coudert Lecture
Committee, who will say a few words about the Lecture. Thank
Edwin S. Matthews, Jr.
The Alexis C. Coudert Memorial Lecture on international
law was established at this Association in honor of Alexis
PACE INT'L L. REV[
Coudert following his death in 1980, after having served for 25
years as the Managing Partner of Coudert Brothers.
During his career, Alexis was one America's foremost
international lawyers. International law was at the center of his
practice and that of his firm.
"International law," what an illusive notion. Alexis used to
say that the practice of international law, whether in
commercial or private or governmental matters, is essentially the
practice of local law for people in different countries. If done well, it
fosters truth, trust and understanding, and makes the world a
Alexis would have been pleased to see you all here tonight,
although if warned that someone was going to compliment him
- so goes the legend of this humble man - he would have
asked to leave the room. As he is no longer here, except in spirit,
we do not risk his embarrassment when we pay homage to his
Those who knew Alexis spoke of his lucid intelligence, his
rare simplicity and his patrician grace and charm. His
measured ambition and active international view transformed his
law firm beyond its ancient limits into a worldwide institution.
As others have described him, he was the absolute antithesis of
everything acquisitive, self-promotional, narrow or crabbed in
our profession or in the world today. But there is much more to
These qualities were not only of an extraordinary human
being, but, I submit, still provide us with important guidance as
to how the rights of human beings of differing and different
cultures and views can be protected on this planet, which is the
subject of this lecture and of our concern tonight.
Many still benefit from Alexis' readiness - quietly and
rationally - to examine every thought that came his way, never
ignoring human emotions, but subjecting them and the needs
from which they came to the same careful scrutiny.
He practiced a humanistic law. For him the law was never
just words or rules; rather, it embodied culture, politics,
economics, philosophy and multifaceted human concerns, always
requiring judgment in its application.
Even after 20 years, we remember how he cared for others,
especially those younger and less fortunate. Alexis always
treated everyone with a gentle, native decency, even in the face
of tensions and hostilities which inevitably inject themselves in
He always showed an essential tolerance for the ideas of
others no matter how strange or, on initial view, how
farfetched. He seemed always, even in heated argument, just to be
listening and learning. Alexis received and examined opposing
views with a measure of charity that accepted as a given that
different cultures produce different people who often do not
His ideas came into every discussion in a natural and easy
way. Usually his advice was offered under the cover of quiet
conversation and just slipped in. Even when costly of his time
and energy, he encouraged initiative and self-reliance in those
He shied from intervening in the affairs of others or telling
them what to do. When required to do so, he acted minimally,
consistent with achieving objectives, but with restrained
judgment that was palpable to those affected.
This is the example of Alexis Coudert, this and much more
was our gift from this wonderful man, whom we love and
remember with this lecture. I would now like to present to you the
President of our Association, Michael Cooper, who will
introduce Senator Mitchell, who through his own dramatically
successful efforts in reestablishing trust and understanding
between ever-warring peoples, has practiced international law
in the example of Alexis Coudert and made our world a more
hopeful, better place. Thank you.
Introduction by Michael A. Cooper
Thank you, Ed, and please extend our thanks to your
partners for making this lecture possible. I also want to thank
David; I happen to be one of the people in the room who knows
how hard he has worked to prepare for this conference. And it
has started, it's here. Finally, I, too, want to thank the Reuters
Foundation and my good friend and former colleague, John
Reid-Dodick, General Counsel of Reuters America, who is here.
This is an evening to which I have for several weeks looked
forward with anticipation and relish because it's an evening
that presents us with a unique opportunity to conjoin, to bring
together, three significant occasions.
First, the opening session of a conference celebrating the
50th Anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human
Second, the delivery of the Alexis Coudert Memorial
And third, our conferral of honorary membership in this
Association on the person who will deliver that lecture, George
A stranger to this association might reasonably ask why a
municipal bar association is cosponsoring an anniversary
celebration for a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but
anyone with even slight familiarity with this Association knows
that for decades it has been deeply interested, deeply concerned
with human rights on the world scene, not just in this city or
even not just in this country.
In 1949 and 1950, the Association's International Law
Committee issued reports on the draft international covenant
on human rights and the genocide convention. The importance
that we attribute to international human rights is evidenced by
the fact that in 1972, we created a committee to address that
subject specifically. That committee, which David now chairs,
has issued reports, written letters to foreign officials, filed
amicus briefs on a wide range of human rights issues and
undertaken missions to other countries to investigate and report on
alleged human rights abuses.
Indeed, if you think about it, there is an inseparable link
between human rights and the reason this Association was
founded 128 years ago: to combat corruption in the judiciary
and other branches of government and to elevate the standards
of the legal profession. For a legal profession and a judiciary
that are truly independent and truly have integrity, are
essential bulwarks of the respect for, and enforcement of, human
It was natural to take the opening session of this three-day
conference as occasion to give the Alexis Coudert Lecture, for
the Coudert firm created that lectureship as a forum for an
address on an international law topic of, and I quote, "public
Coudert lecturers in the past have included former
Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and former State
Department Legal Advisor Abraham Sofaer. This evening's lecture will
be delivered by a man of whom I think I can say without
hyperbole that he is truly a hero of our times.
I suspect, Senator Mitchell, that you may be getting a little
bit tired now of listening to a recitation of the particulars of
your life story, but this audience should know the stages of your
remarkable service to your home state, to this country and to
Senator Mitchell was not born to privilege; his father was a
school custodian and his mother worked in a woolen mill in
Waterville, Maine. After attending Bowdoin College and serving as
an officer in the U.S. Army Counter-intelligence Corps he
earned his law degree at Georgetown where he studied, as my
father did, in the evening division, and worked during the day
to support himself as an insurance claims adjuster.
Following graduation, he spent two years in the
Department of Justice Antitrust Division and then became Executive
Assistant to Senator Edwin Muskie. Senator Mitchell returned
to Maine in 1965 and entered private practice, but he remained
active in politics, serving as State Chairman of the Maine
Democratic Party and a Democratic National Committeeman. He
was appointed United States Attorney for Maine in 1977 and
two years later, he took the oath as a United States District
To an outside observer, the critical turning point in George
Mitchell's career came in 1980 when Senator Muskie, who had
been appointed Secretary of State, recommended to the then
Governor of Maine that George Mitchell be appointed to
complete the remaining two years of Senator Muskie's Senate term.
The acceptance of that recommendation marked the
beginning of George Mitchell's 14 years in the United States Senate,
during which he was elected and then reelected in his own
right, so impressing his constituents that when he ran for
reelection in 1988, he received 81 percent of the votes cast.
Senator Mitchell swiftly rose to leadership in the Senate. In
1985 and 1986 he was chairman of the Senate Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee, and two years later, he was elected
majority leader, a position he held until he left the Senate.
Senator Mitchell's accomplishments in supporting and securing
enactment of landmark legislation alone would earn him a place
in history books. He championed the first major Acid Rain Bill,
reauthorization of the Clean Air Act and the Americans With
Disabilities Act, among others.
There is one moment in George Mitchell's Senate career
that is indelibly imprinted in my memory, and, as I have
learned in recent weeks, in the memory of many others as well.
As a member of the Select Committee on the Iran-Contra Affair,
Senator Mitchell endured, as millions of Americans did, hour
after hour of pious testimony by Oliver North, who, with the aid
of effective counsel, kept the committee and its counsel at bay.
At least until Senator Mitchell leaned forward and in a
quiet voice said to Oliver North, "Please remember that it is
possible for an American to disagree with you on aid to the
Contras and still love God, and still love this country, just as much
as you do. Although he is regularly asked to do so, God does not
take sides in American politics."
I don't know how many of you heard that statement at the
time, as I did, but it was a defining moment in those hearings
and remains to me the single most effective statement I have
ever heard deflating a self-important witness.
A powerful argument could be made for honoring George
Mitchell if he had done nothing of note since leaving the Senate.
But far from doing nothing, he has played a pivotal role in
helping to resolve one of the most bitter and intractable conflicts of
In 1995, President Clinton appointed him Special Advisor
to the President and Secretary of State to consider economic
initiatives in Northern Ireland. He was then asked by the British
and Irish Governments to chair the International Commission
on Disarmament in Northern Ireland. That Commission issued
a widely acclaimed report in January 1996, but the end of a
16month cease-fire delayed the peace process.
Senator Mitchell patiently persevered. In June 1996, he
was formally installed as Chairman of the Northern Ireland
peace talks and after nearly two years of negotiations, on April
10th of this year, a multilateral peace agreement known as the
"Good Friday Agreement" was signed, and shortly was
ported by public referenda in both Northern Ireland and the
That Agreement is extraordinarily complex. It addresses
relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern
Ireland and the Irish Republic, and between Ireland and the
United Kingdom. Significantly for this occasion, the Agreement
provides for the incorporation of the European Convention on
Human Rights into the law of Northern Ireland and for the
establishment of a Human Rights Commission in Northern
For his leadership and negotiating skill in bringing an end
to three decades of bloody sectarian strife and human suffering,
Senator Mitchell was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and
he received both the Philadelphia Peace Prize and just last
month, one mile north of this building, the Fordham-Stein
We don't have a tangible prize to award to Senator
Mitchell, but we can pay tribute to his public service here and abroad
by conferring on him honorary membership in this Association.
Many organizations confer honorary memberships with some
frequency. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York
does not. Under our Constitution, honorary membership is
reserved for judges, justices and members of the legal profession
who are of "pre-eminent distinction," and it is not conferred
every year. Senator Mitchell joins an illustrious list of honorary
members, including, fittingly, former President of Ireland and
now U.N. Commissioner of Human Rights, Mary Robinson.
Senator Mitchell, I would be grateful if you would join me
as I read the citation of the certificate awarding you honorary
membership in the Association. It says: "The Association of the
Bar of the City of New York elects George J. Mitchell to
Having found him by unanimous vote of the Executive
Committee to be of pre-eminent distinction in the legal
In recognition of his contributions to the law and social justice,
including his service as United States Attorney for Maine, United
States District Judge, United States Senator and Majority Leader
of the United States Senate, and in further recognition of his
dedication to the rule of law, international human rights and the
search for peace as evidenced by his pivotal role in bringing about
a peace accord in Northern Ireland, we welcome him as an
Honorary Member of the Association on this 10th day of December,