November 23, 2008
The deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, accepted the Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom in a November 19 ceremony at HLS.
The award of the medal—the highest honor conferred by the law school—was announced by Dean Elena Kagan ’86 in November 2007, when Chaudhry was under house arrest in Pakistan and wasn’t free to travel to the US to accept it. (See November 2007 HLS news post)
At the HLS ceremony, Kagan described Chaudhry’s contribution to the rule of law as “inestimable” and said: “We pause to honor what happened last year, when a brave judge, supported by brave lawyers, stood up for the rule of law, and captured the imagination of his people and the world.” Watch the webcast. (Read text of speech)
Last year, after Chaudhry suggested that Pakistan’s constitution prohibited General Pervez Musharraf from serving as president while still in uniform, Musharraf installed a new chief justice and ordered that Chaudhry be placed under house arrest. The deposed chief justice continued to speak out for the rule of law.
The moves against Chaudhry sparked protests by Pakistani lawyers and mass demonstrations in support of an independent judiciary—and ultimately contributed to Musharraf’s resignation in August. Chaudhry was released from house arrest, but has yet to be restored to the office of chief justice.
"I only did my duty according to my conscience," he said in the ceremony in the Ames Courtroom at HLS. "It was the proclamation of a new manifesto for Pakistan, a declaration that the pursuit of justice cannot be subverted or resisted."The struggle now, said Chaudhry, is about separation of power, the role of the judiciary in society, the rule of law and “ridding the judiciary from executive enslavement.”
“Who does not know that Pakistan has been a 61-year-long judicial nightmare?” Chaudhry said. Today, he added, Pakistanis have “a dream to end the nightmare, a Pakistani dream to become part of civility. … To live by the law is all that the dream is about. Pakistanis, both with and without guns, will have to live by the law.”
“It is time for Pakistan to transform from the rule of man to the rule of law. It’s time for Pakistan’s judiciary to declare a spade a spade. We’re already a half century behind India’s judicial transformation,” Chaudrhy told the gathering in the Ames Courtroom.
“Pakistan’s judiciary has to be confident that Pakistan’s civil society has reached the level of maturity whereby the judiciary will be protected against the coercive apparatus at the command of the executive.”
Among those on hand for the ceremony was HLS Professor William Alford, Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies. "It was extraordinary to receive Chief Justice Chaudhry and the courageous lawyers who accompanied him -- and to introduce them to our students and faculty," said Alford afterwards. "Their example is inspiring for all of us in law anywhere in the world."
The Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom was established to honor the achievements of individuals who have worked to uphold the legal system’s fundamental commitment to freedom, justice, and equality. It has previously been awarded to the Brown v. Board of Education litigation team and to South African President Nelson Mandela.