Forum 2000 (www.forum2000.cz) is an annual convocation in Prague, originally founded by Václav Havel, dedicated to supporting the values of democracy and respect for human rights. The Forum provides a platform for global leaders to openly debate and share thoughts on this critical issue. This year, CEELI again joined in Forum 2000’s Festival of Democracy, hosting a panel entitled “Unwinding: Rule of Law Reform in Europe Under Pressure.” The CEELI Institute panel addressed the uneven road in transformation of post-communist countries into fully functioning and healthy democracies. With the re-emergence of political nationalism and authoritarian instincts, pro-democratic cooperation across borders is of utmost importance. This session looked at current developments as well as possible strategies of international efforts aimed at advancing the rule of law amid the current volatility. Speakers included Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of the acclaimed Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza; Mykhailo Zhernakov, a former judge, and Director of the DeJuRe Foundation (Ukraine); Jeremy Druker, Executive Director of Transitions Online (Czech Republic) and Christopher Lehmann, Executive Director, the CEELI Institute.
The CEELI Institute is pleased to initiate a multi-year partnership with the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal, India, and the U.S. Federal Judicial Center, which will promote a series of exchanges between U.S. and Indian judges. This effort, generously supported by the US Department of State’s Counterterrorism Bureau, will focus particularly on judges who are responsible for adjudicating complex cases involving terrorism and national security crimes. As is on our past work on this subject matter with judges from a variety of backgrounds, including the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa, the Institute will again make particular use of relevant good practice documents generated by the 30-member Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF), a body which includes both India and the United States (www.thegctf.org). Of particular relevance for framing the discussions in this effort is the Hague Memorandum on Good Practices for the Judiciary in Adjudicating Terrorism Offenses, a Good Practice document drafted by the GCTF with extensive international input, and reflecting relevant international standards. The CEELI Institute is proud to have participated in the drafting of the Hague Memorandum, which was approved in plenary by the GCTF in 2015.
The Initial exchanges under this project between Indian and American judges are now scheduled for late October 2017 in Bhopal, at the Academy, and early 2018 in Washington, at the Federal Judicial Center. As a precursor to this effort, CEELI Institute staff accompanied Judge John Tunheim, Chief Judge of the District of Minnesota, to India in April of this year for meetings with the leadership and faculty of the Indian National Judicial Academy. Over the course of 3-days, the Institute representatives outlined plans for the exchange, toured the NJA facilities, and met with key Indian partners in both Bhopal and New Delhi.
This project reflects the CEELI Institute’s ongoing commitment to work with judges in countries on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. To date, our previous efforts have engaged judges from the Western Balkans, as well as in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over the course of the past two years, the CEELI Institute has successfully organized four such counterterrorism conferences, with a fifth due to take place in Malta on October 11-13 of this year. This work has resulted in the Institute amassing a diverse and talented pool of counterterrorism experts who frequently act as program faculty.
In April 2018, the CEELI Institute resumed a program in partnership with the Swedish-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), focused on offering a professional lifeline to Syrian judges who are now in exile in Turkey but who hold on to the hope of one day returning to their country to rebuild the justice system. Many of the exiled judges remain actively involved with international organizations that are working with refugees in Turkey, for example, by assisting with efforts to maintain basic public records of births, death, and marriages, in the absence of any formal mechanism for recording such crucial life events. All of these Syrian judges are looking ahead to possible scenarios that might occur in Syria after the conflict ends.
In April 2018, the Institute convened a program in Gaziantep, Turkey, to facilitate discussions among the judges and to explore core issues related to their role in the emerging post conflict society; where both the rule of law and democratic values will not be firmly established. The special focus of this session was on constitutional issues related to the judiciary. Our goal is to promote discussion and engagement on the challenges Syrian judges face, and on the ways in which the judges can begin to prepare for their roles in an immediate post-conflict environment. The roundtable allowed us to frame priorities for further programmatic efforts, as we hope to continue and expand this work.
At present, the Syrian judges feel cut off and removed from the larger world. These efforts are intended to support their morale, and to also provide opportunities to engage with our networks of judges from other countries that have emerged from conflicts. The CEELI Institute roundtable explored challenges and scenarios that took place in other countries following an armed conflict (including Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia), and the difficult work ahead, including reconstructing land and personal registries, reestablishing public administration, and regaining public trust in the judiciary. Ultimately, the success of post conflict processes in Syria will depend on the expertise and readiness of Syrian judges as actors in this effort. The effort is funded by the Swedish International Development Administration (SIDA).
The CEELI Institute was honored to support the Seventh Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe, hosted in Budapest by the Supreme Court of Hungary from June 4-7, 2017. The Conference was originally launched in Prague, at the Institute, with support from the U.S. Department of State, and with the personal commitment of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Conference is now a self-sustaining body that meets annually, and provides the opportunity for the Chief Justices to discuss common challenges, share ideas, and work towards solutions. Front and center among this year’s discussions were the ongoing challenges to judicial independence that continue to be seen and felt across the region.
The Conference continues to rotate between member states, and each year is hosted by a Chief Justice from a different country. Conferences over the past several years have been hosted by Albania (2012), Montenegro (2013), the Republic of Georgia (2014), Croatia (2015), and Serbia (2016). The 2018 Conference will be hosted in Vilnius by the Supreme Court of Lithuania, and the 2019 Conference will be hosted in Bratislava by the Supreme Court of Slovakia. The CEELI Institute is delighted to continue to play an active and important role in the organization and continuity of this program.
Among the achievements of the Conference has been the signing, in 2015, of the Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, known now as the Brijuni Statement (after the seaside town in Croatia where the 2015 Conference was held). The Brijuni Statement is modeled after a similar effort undertaken by the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, which resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in 1995. The Brijuni Statement is a reaffirmation of a long-held and shared belief amongst its signatories in judicial independence and the obligation to uphold the rule of law. The CEELI Institute is gratified to be able to support the publication and distribution of the Brijuni Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, and the Statement has been available on the CEELI Institute website. It joins other useful legal instruments addressing judicial independence, the drafting of which have been supported by the CEELI Institute, including the Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice: A Thematic Compilation of International Standards, Policies and Best Practices.
The CEELI Institute continues to be deeply engaged with judiciaries of Central and Eastern Europe, primarily through our ongoing Network of rising young judges, now entering its sixth year of programmatic activities and efforts. The young judges are increasingly concerned about coping with the external pressures—political, social, media—that work to undermine judicial independence in the region. Recent legislative interference with the judiciary in Poland has been well reported, but disturbing trends are reported across the region. With knives out for judges across the region, they are also keen to pay greater attention to ethical issues, and to avoid conflicts and ethical pitfalls that have caught up with some of their peers. In September the CEELI Institute organized several events to address the increasing pressures on judges, and how to cope with them.
These included a workshop on judicial ethics at the Institute’s Villa Grebovka in Prague, which provided the judges with a framework for dealing with external pressures, and for analyzing and resolving ethical issues that may arise in the course of judicial work. We were particularly fortunate to be joined for this program by Judge Anthony Scirica of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the leading American jurists on these issues, who is also currently Chair of the US Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct.
On September 25th the Institute organized another in its continuing series of webinars on judicial issues, this one focused on the Freedom of Expression of Judges, and led by renowned Czech expert, David Kosar. Head of the Judicial Studies Institute (JUSTIN) at the Law Faculty of Masaryk University. Issues of judicial expression are much less settled in the CEE region than in the US; the webinar explores the limits on a judge’s freedom to express his or her personal opinion and convictions during exercise of judicial duties in the courtroom, as well as extra-judicially (for example in social media, which, unlike the US, is a common communication platform for many judges in the region).
September also saw the CEELI Institute again supporting the Association of Croatian Judges in their organization of their third annual international conference focused on the issue of public trust in the judiciary. The program (held in Zadar, 22-23 September) brought together 90 judges from Europe and beyond to discuss how to build public trust in the judiciary by improving professional skills, improving effective access to justice and improving communication through new media.
The CEELI Institute is grateful to the support of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau on International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) for its ongoing funding of our work with judges in the region.