Building Legal Skills and Capacity

Working with Burmese human rights lawyers and parliamentarians

The CEELI Institute continued and expanded its long term program in Burma. Building on a five-year track record, CEELI – together with partner organization Burma Center Prague – continues to provide support and mentoring to networks of independent human rights lawyers engaged in pro bono defense – above all the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), and the Union Lawyers and the Paralegals Association (ULPA).  To date, the CEELI Institute has undertaken training programs in 13 different cities around the country, including Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, Pyay, Pyapon, Sittwe, Taunggyi, Bago, Mawlamyine, Loikaw, Myiktyina, Dawei and Pathein.  This program has been generously supported by the Czech Foreign Ministry’s Transition Program.

In 2018, the CEELI Institute also continued its efforts to support opposition members of the Burmese Parliament who are working to reform a range of outdated or repressive legislation. Many of these Members of Parliament 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.  A special focus of this work has been to educate new parliamentarians on their little-understood constitutional rights to bring cases to the Constitutional Court. While the current constitution, which was drafted by the previous military regime in 2008, contains many provisions that can be used to restrict a democratic environment, the largely inactive Constitutional Court has broad powers to interpret the Constitution in ways that are more compatible with a modern democracy. The court is an underused resource, and one that the parliamentarians are capable of using to more democratic ends. While there are also political obstacles to using the court fully, the parliamentarian’s understanding of their potential role is crucial for a better functioning legislative body. In 2018, the CEELI Institute also organized legislative roundtables In Yangon, Mawlamyine and Bago for members of both Union and regional parliaments, focusing on better understanding of the recently amended anti-corruption legislation in Burma and best practices in setting up well functioning and systemic anti-corruption efforts. Apart from parliamentarians, these roundtables also included lawyers, providing a platform for better coordination and building trust among actors of different backgrounds.

Practicing Law Before European Court of Human Rights: CEELI Launches a New Three Part Training Series on Preparation and Handling of Cases

In 2018, the CEELI Institute, working in cooperation with the Centre de la Protection Internationale (Strasbourg), launched the first session of what will ultimately be a three session course for young lawyers seeking to deepen their competency to work on cases involving violations of the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, and seeking to perfect appeals of those violations to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in Strasbourg.  The ECtHR is currently among the most important avenues of international appeal and review open to citizens seeking redress from final judgments in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.  Such redress is particularly important for citizens of European countries which are not members of the European Union, such as Turkey, Ukraine and Russia.

This course curricula is delivered in three separate, interactive sessions, each lasting five days. The sessions are spaced out over a seven month period, and require a commitment from participants to attend each session. The final session will include a moot court hearing in Grand Chamber in the ECtHR, in Strasbourg. Faculty consists of attorneys working in the ECtHR’s Administration, as well as former ECtHR judges or lawyers, who have been working in the ECtHR for decades, and who are well qualified to explain the peculiarities of the Convention based on their own cases.

Supporting Defense Lawyers

The legal profession itself remains under distress in many countries in the region; challenges are particularly great for members of the criminal defense bar who represent human rights activists, journalists, or other unpopular defendants. Our programs continue to bring together criminal defense lawyers from regions and countries where the conduct of their profession is under stress. Programs address current challenges to the independence of their profession, mechanisms for maintaining the rule of law, strategies for providing defendants with access to counsel, and tools for using international law as a check on repressive domestic actions. The CEELI Institute also workedto bolster technical legal skills and assist in developing effective litigation strategies for questioning repressive laws.

Trial Skills Training at CEELI

The CEELI Institute recently launched a new advocacy skills training effort for young lawyers from the Eurasia region.  The one week program is designed to build the confidence of young legal professionals in areas that are most relevant to human rights advocacy in a trial setting – i.e. oral presentation and argument, motion practice, and persuasive speaking. Faculty included a roster of highly experienced international trainers. The course is highly interactive and incorporates daily participants exercises, reflecting tried and true interactive components developed for use in clinical legal education programs, including the international programs run by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). Participants were very enthusiastic, noting that the practical aspects of the workshop were something they had never experienced in their prior legal education opportunities. The program involved daily oral presentations, including witness testimony exercises, and culminated in a mock trial. Participants received detailed feedback from faculty mentors throughout the program, enhanced by the small size of the class and the high student-faculty ratio.   The CEELI Institute looks forward to conducting further sessions of this training.

Substantive Legal Skills Training

Since our inception, the Institute has worked to provide relevant in-service training and education for legal professionals. These efforts are continuing, with the organization of substantive legal training programs for practicing lawyers from the region. Using a comparative law approach, programs this year again addressed personal insolvency law for an audience of bankruptcy lawyers.