Commemorating the 50th ANNIVERSARY of the PRAGUE SPRING

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2018 marks the 50th anniversary of a brief period of liberalism, economic and social reform and democratization of Czechoslovakia, known as the Prague Spring.  In January 1968, a moderate, Alexander Dubček replaced his hard-line communist predecessor to become the Secretary of the Community Party in Czechoslovakia. His leadership marked the beginning of a new era in Czechoslovakia, even if for just a short time.

In response to economic depression and complaints that the Soviet Union was exploiting its people, Dubček launched an “Action Programme” of liberalizations. This resulted in increased freedom of press, religion, association, and travel, the rehabilitation of victims of political purges during the Joseph Stalin era, a revised constitution to guarantee civil rights and liberties, a switch of emphasis from industrial to consumer goods, possibility for a more democratic government, and a decrease in Soviet control over the country. During this new era, reporters and editors in the state-run media began to criticize socialism and enforce reform. For the first time anywhere in the Eastern Bloc, censorship was officially abolished during June 1968. Citizens of Czechoslovakia embraced the reforms, which immediately affected the activation of social and cultural life.

Fears of these reforms spread to neighboring communist countries, leading to a meeting of top Communist Party representatives from the Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Bulgaria. Collectively they issued a stern warning to Dubček, that “the situation in Czechoslovakia jeopardizes the common vital interests of other socialist countries.”

On the evening of August 20, the world saw one of the ugliest and most treacherous acts in Cold War history. Tanks rolled into the streets of Prague as military forces from the Warsaw Pact countries of the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria invaded Czechoslovakia. A half million troops sought out any “antisocialist” elements, leading to the death of 72 Czech and Slovak citizens, with hundreds more wounded. Almost all of the reforms made under Dubček were eliminated. Czechoslovakia sunk back into a repressive, somnolent state, entering a period that ironically came to become known as “normalization.”  Czechoslovak citizens turned inwards, and away from public life.

The scars of the Prague Spring would only begin to be healed years later, as the Soviet Union melted away in 1989, and the Czechs returned to the streets—this time with a more successful Velvet Revolution.

The Prague Spring continues to serve as an important lesson for the need to resist oppression in the modern day. The current rise of right-wing populism throughout central and eastern Europe finds ways of challenging democratic principles and threatens civil liberties. Movements in opposition of immigration and liberal social values and the push to delegitimize the press challenge democratic principles pushed for during the Prague Spring. As part of the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring, we should reflect on this historic event’s meaning, the perseverance of the Czech people, and the continued need to resist tyranny everywhere.

Trial Skills Training for Young Human Rights Defenders

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In early May, as part of an ongoing project to work with young lawyers in the Southern Caucuses, the CEELI Institute was pleased to host our first trial skills program for aspiring human rights defenders. Our faculty included John Vaudreuil (the former US Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin) and Maxim Timofeev, Professor of Law at European Humanities University, Vilnius, who joined with regional colleagues to work through an intensive 5-day trial skills and moot court workshop tailored for the aspiring defense advocates. Participants at the program were eager to learn from their veteran instructors and supplement their theoretical legal educations with a course much more focused on practical elements necessary to be successful in the courtroom. Course instructors coupled encouragement and constructive feedback in a clearly successful attempt to build confidence in the young aspiring advocates in critical trial skills including public speaking, argumentation, cross-examination, and body language. Feedback has been extremely positive and the Institute looks forward to future opportunities to incorporate such courses into our core work with judges and lawyers.

CEELI at the UN

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The CEELI Institute was honored to be invited to participate in the United Nation’s Launch of its Global Judicial Integrity Network.  The Launch, held in Vienna, on April 9-10, 2018, was a groundbreaking event attended by leaders of the world’s judiciaries and a select number of international judicial associations. The CEELI Institute was one of a handful of non-governmental organizations selected to join judges from around the globe at the event.  CEELI’s contributions to the Launch event included organizing and moderating a panel on the new professional and ethical challenges for judges raised as a result of the increasing use of social media by members of the profession.  This is a topic that CEELI has explored in depth within the context of its ongoing Central and East European Judicial Network.  For this panel, CEELI drew on the forwardleading experiences with social media by judges in the region, including practices from the Czech Republic, Croatia and Romania.  In particular, we drew special attention to the efforts by the Czech Union of Judges to draft and promulgate concrete guidelines on the subject.

 

Supporting Exiled Syrian Judges

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In April, CEELI returned to Gaziantep, Turkey for further engagement with exiled Syrian judges.  This is part of an ongoing partnership that CEELI has undertaken with the Swedish based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) to provide a lifeline to Syrian judges who have fled the conflict and are now refugees in Turkey. The hope is that this group will someday be able to return to Syria, and help to rebuild legal and judicial institutions there which have been decimated by years of conflict. In the meantime, these judges are in need of ongoing support and mentoring.  

 

The April program furthered our aim of working with the judges to develop their expertise in thematic areas relevant to post conflict settings. This most recent workshop focused on constitutional issues related to the judiciary and the provisions that typically relate to judicial independence in democratic institutions. CEELI has also worked with the judges to establish professional links with relevant organizations and associations in Europe. For these judges—stranded in limbo in Turkey—such engagements with a larger international legal and judicial communities are critical to their intellectual and professional well being. 

CEELI Launches New Anti-Corruption Compliance Training

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This year, the CEELI Institute launched a new curriculum designed to train practitioners on effective corporate compliance with international anti-corruption standards, including the operation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the UK Anti-Bribery Law and the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).  The program is targeted at individuals who have responsibilities for advising their clients or employers on internal corporate compliance.  CEELI recognized a growing demand for such training, particularly for practitioners in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. In house advisors are increasingly required to have detailed knowledge of relevant anticorruption statutes, as well as the broader international context in which multi-national corporations must now function. Avoiding corporate liability for corrupt practices is now critical to business operation, yet many lawyers in the region have had limited experience with international anti-corruption laws and with corporate compliance mechanisms.   

 

Our initial roll out of this program was held in Prague, at the CEELI Institute, in January 2018. The program examined various situations which present corruption risks, and explained how a good compliance program is a risk-reduction tool that can help manage corruption risks and reduce the likelihood of improper conduct and violations of law.  Based on the enthusiastic participant response, we look forward to making this program a regular component of our anti-corruption program offerings.