Advising Burmese MPs on legislative reform

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Building on our four-year track record of working with human rights lawyers in Burma, the CEELI Institute has now expanded our efforts in Burma to include support for members of the Burmese Parliament who are working to reform a range of outdated or repressive legislation. Many of these MPs are former dissidents and political prisoners who are now adjusting to new roles as legislators and drafters. Progress in changing these laws and paving the way for a genuine democracy is critical to securing democratic changes in Burma.  The MPs are also increasingly aware that the results of the next general election in 2020 will be partly dependent on success in reforming repressive laws.

This project has been a logical outgrowth of our work with the human rights legal community in Burma, and our long term partnership with the Burma Center Prague (BCP).  It was through our well-established contacts with senior human rights lawyers, that the CEELI Institute and BCP were requested to initiate this effort, as lawyers we have worked with now have moved from a position of outsiders and political prisoners into positions within the legislature.  The transition is an important, but challenging one for them. The latest series of roundtables, organized by CEELI and BCP this month (December 2017) in Burma, covers strategies for a successful and efficient drafting of new laws, including cooperation with independent lawyers associations as a source of expertise and legal drafts.

This project has been possible through the ongoing support of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and more recently through additional support provided by the British Embassy in Yangon.

CEELI at Forum 2000

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15th Forum 2000 Conference, October 9–11, 2011, Prague

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 WyborczaMykhailo 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 Judicial Exchange touches base in India

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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.  

Providing Lifelines for Syrian Judges in Exile

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The CEELI Institute is partnering with the Swedish-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) to begin programs that will offer 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.   

The Institute convened the initial 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.  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 2017 Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe

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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.