MINELRES: Justice Initiative Activities Round-Up: May - July 2007

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Wed Aug 22 09:59:50 2007

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New Essay Examines Rule of Law Movement in the Age of Terror

Writing in the Spring 2007 issue of the Harvard Human Rights Journal,
Open Society Justice Initiative Executive Director James A. Goldston
looks at the impact of the “war on terror” on the effort to establish
and consolidate the rule of law worldwide. In his brief essay
“Reflections on Twenty Years in Human Rights: The Rule of Law Movement
in the Age of Terror,” Goldston charts the movement's progress in the
20th century and the challenges it faces post-9/11. According to
Goldston, these challenges include:

• Compensating for the loss of U.S. prestige as a leading, if imperfect,
force for human rights worldwide;
• Responding to globalization's compression of time and space in ways
that promote the rule of law; and
• Avoiding becoming so preoccupied with terrorism and counter-terrorism
as to overlook other problems that may affect more people more often.

In spite of the difficulties currently confronting the rule of law
movement, Goldston finds cause for measured optimism in the history of
prior engagement with terrorist violence; the talent, depth, and policy
reach of rule of law advocates and institutions; and the rule of law's
ethical underpinnings in a commitment to human dignity.

Click here to read or download the full text of “Reflections on Twenty
Years in Human Rights: The Rule of Law Movement in the Age of Terror”:

Call for U.S. Leadership in Combatting Statelessness

In a letter published in the International Herald Tribune in July,
Justice Initiative Executive Director James A. Goldston highlights the
problem of statelessness as a potential “prelude to gross human rights
violations” and argues for greater efforts to combat it. Specifically,
Goldston calls for U.S. ratification of two UN conventions against
statelessness, increased funding for UN agencies working on the problem,
and a global campaign to end statelessness. Click here to read the
entire letter: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/24/opinion/edlet.php

Survey Finds Widespread Torture of Pretrial Detainees

In March, the U.S. State Department released its 2006 Country Reports on
Human Rights Practices. In June, the Justice Initiative’s National
Criminal Justice Reform Program completed an exhaustive review of the
report and found evidence that 67 percent of the countries studied
engaged in torture or other mistreatment to extract confessions from
pretrial detainees. (The Justice Initiative only studied the 156
countries with a population of over 1 million.) The Justice Initiative’s
analysis also found that 71 percent of countries have prison systems
where pretrial prisoners suffer in inhumane conditions marked by
inadequate food, clean water, hygiene, and medical care. For the full
State Department report, click here:

New Web Page Centralizes Information on Legal Aid

A new database of information and resources on legal aid was published
on the Justice Initiative’s website in June. The new page,
collects in a single place information on: international standards of
legal aid, organization and management of a legal aid system, legal aid
legislation, and various models of legal aid delivery. The database also
contains links to studies and research on legal aid, as well as links to
other organizations working in this field.


Experts Examine Efforts to Reform Pretrial Detention

Criminal justice and law reform experts, including representatives of
the Justice Initiative, met in Cape Town in June to examine the
excessive use of pretrial detention—the practice of holding in jail
suspects who are awaiting trial, rather than releasing them on bail or
other surety. While acknowledging that there are proper uses of pretrial
detention—such as when a suspect is a risk to flee—the experts focused
on the high costs of pretrial detention. According to Martin Schönteich,
senior legal officer for the Justice Initiative, these costs include
lost economic productivity of those locked away, economic and
psychological strains on the families of the detained, and public health
costs borne by society when detainees are released, often after being
exposed to infectious diseases while in jail. The Cape Town meeting
looked at several efforts to reform excessive use of pretrial detention,
including different approaches taken in South Africa, Malawi and
Nigeria; those reform efforts will be the subject of a forthcoming issue
of Justice Initiatives. The meeting was reported on by Voice of America;
please visit 
to read the article or listen to the broadcast.

Rights Groups Launch www.CharlesTaylorTrial.org

A new website, www.CharlesTaylorTrial.org, was launched in June to
provide news and expert analysis—updated daily—on the war crimes trial
of former Liberian president Charles Ghankay Taylor.
CharlesTaylorTrial.org features daily updates from the courtroom, as
well as analysis, background information, the trial calendar and other
resources. The site is a joint project of the Open Society Institute,
the Open Society Justice Initiative, the International Senior Lawyers
Project, and Clifford Chance, LLP. Taylor, who is charged with 11 counts
of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of
international law related to the civil conflicts in Sierra Leone, is
being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. His trial, which
began in June and is expected to last 18 months, will be held in The
Hague at the request of the Special Court, due to concerns about
political destabilization were it held in West Africa. Click here to
read the full announcement:


Symposium Highlights Plight of Thailand’s Highland People

The Justice Initiative hosted a special symposium in July titled “The
Highland People of Thailand: Statelessness as a Source of Exclusion,
Rights Violations, and Vulnerability to Human Trafficking.” The event,
co-sponsored by UNESCO and Vital Voices Global Partnership, examined the
situation of Thailand’s highland people, ethnic minorities who are
denied citizenship in the country of their birth. Without legal status,
highland people are considered illegal aliens in their own country,
subject to arrest, deportation, and abuse, and are denied basic rights
such as education, health services, land ownership, political
participation, and the right to travel freely. Click here to learn more
about UNESCO’s Highland Citizenship and Birth Registration Project:

Central Asian Lawyers Trained to Fight Torture

Twenty lawyers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan joined
international human rights law experts in July for practical training in
using litigation to combat torture. The training offered hands-on
instruction in overcoming the challenges of litigating torture cases.
This is the third year the seminar, organized by the Justice Initiative,
was held. Torture is widely used in Central Asia to obtain confessions
and other statements admitted as evidence in criminal proceedings. The
seminar focused on legal challenges in domestic courts and international
bodies concerning states' failure to comply with their international
obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish torture. The practical
exercises at the heart of the training were developed from actual cases
in Central Asia and decisions by the UN Human Rights Committee on the
prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. The seminar is part of an
ongoing Justice Initiative project on seeking legal remedies for torture
in Central Asia. Click here to read more:

New Report Finds Critical Needs at Khmer Rouge Tribunal

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) must take
urgent action to address serious challenges confronting the court,
according to a report released in June by the Justice Initiative. As the
ECCC moves into its investigations phase, immediate steps must be taken
on an array of issues, including: getting the courtrooms ready for
pretrial hearings, which are expected to start in a few months;
providing protection and support to potential witnesses; making the
court's operations more accessible to the Cambodian public through
enhanced outreach; and instituting more transparent reporting on the
court's financial and administrative operations. Without prompt
attention to these and other needs, further delays will likely plague
the court and erode public confidence, the report warns. The 24-page
report provides recommendations to the ECCC, the United Nations, donor
states, and Cambodian NGOs on steps they can take to improve the court's
performance. Click here for the report:

Justice Initiative Hails Adoption of Rules for Khmer Rouge Trials

The quest for justice in Cambodia advanced significantly when judges for
the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced
their agreement on internal rules to govern the court's operations, the
Justice Initiative said in June. The ECCC, which has a three-year
mandate to try “those most responsible” for the mass crimes of the Khmer
Rouge, was stalled over the rules that will guide the court. Internal
Rules of Procedure are necessary for formal judicial proceedings to go
forward and to ensure the court meets minimum fair trial standards.
“This agreement on the rules is a significant step forward for the
ECCC,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice
Initiative. “Major tasks remain for the court, but today's announcement
puts the Cambodian people closer to seeing justice done. The critical
next step is for the rules to be released publicly.” Click here to read
the full announcement:

Draft Legal Aid Law Unveiled in Kyrgyzstan

In May, the Administration of the President of Kyrgyzstan officially
presented a new draft law on legal aid which, if passed, would create a
national system of legal aid management and delivery in Kyrgyzstan. The
new legislation would fulfill Kyrgyzstan's obligation, under
international law and the national constitution, to provide effective
access to justice and to guarantee free legal aid for indigent criminal
defendants. The draft law limits the scope of legal aid to criminal
matters at this stage, but also opens opportunities for future extension
of the system to administrative and civil matters. The Open Society
Justice Initiative and Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan provided input on the
draft. The announcement is the latest step in the reform process, which
the Ministry of Justice began in 2004 in partnership with Soros
Foundation-Kyrgyzstan and the Open Society Justice Initiative. It is
expected that the parliament of Kyrgyzstan will consider the draft law
by the end of 2007. Click here to read more:


Legal Aid Law Adopted in Moldova

The Moldovan Parliament voted unanimously in July to approve a new legal
aid law, taking an important step in the country's process of improving
access to justice. The law significantly increases access to legal aid
by guaranteeing qualified legal aid for all poor defendants, prompt
access to counsel for all detained defendants, and up to one hour of
primary legal aid for any person in need of legal advice. The new legal
aid system will be implemented gradually over the next five years. The
reform is part of a broader effort to improve the legal aid system in
Moldova, begun in 2004 by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with
the Soros Foundation-Moldova. The law was developed by a legal aid
working group which benefited from extensive consultations with the
Justice Initiative, national and international experts, and other
partner organizations. Click here to learn more:

Community Prosecution Expands in Georgia

A community prosecution project in Georgia is preparing to expand from
its pilot site in Mtskheta to two new cities, Batumi and Telavi. A
training held in July brought together prosecutors from those two
cities, as well as senior officials from Georgia’s Office of the
Prosecutor-General  and prosecutors from Mtskheta to discuss principles
and practices of community prosecution.. The orientation training,
organized by the Justice Initiative, the Open Society Georgia
Foundation, and the Office of the Prosecutor-General, will help the
Batumi and Telavi prosecutors implement the community prosecution
approach, which emphasizes prosecutors’ partnership with and
accountability to the communities they serve. The Batumi and Telavi
sites are expected to begin community prosecution practices in October.

New Legal Aid Law Adopted in Georgia

A new legal aid law was adopted in Georgia in June after an overwhelming
majority in parliament voted in favor of it. The new law introduces a
full-fledged model of public defenders as legal aid providers, and a
quasi-independent executive agency (outside of the Ministry of Justice)
to administer the system. A network of free legal advice centers is to
be established throughout the country. The new legal aid law is part of
a broader reform of the criminal justice system initiated by President
Mikheil Saakashvili in 2005. The Justice Initiative and Open Society
Georgia Foundation were members of Georgia’s Legal Aid Reform Working
Group, which developed the draft legal aid law in consultation with
relevant stakeholders, experts, and civil society. Click here to read
the full announcement:

Football Brings Georgian Prosecutors Closer to the Community

A football match played in Mtskheta, Georgia and broadcast to a national
television audience illustrates that prosecutors can change the way they
work. The match, played in May, was the final game of a remarkable
tournament that pitted prosecutors against high school students, police
officers against juvenile probationers, and municipal officials against
staff and juveniles of a local orphanage—all part of a community
prosecution project undertaken jointly by the Justice Initiative, the
Open Society Georgia Foundation, and the Office of the
Prosecutor-General of Georgia. Community prosecution emphasizes
community involvement in identifying crime and related problems. Key
components of community prosecution are the addition of crime prevention
to prosecutors' mission, and prosecutors’ partnership with—and
accountability to—citizens in local communities. In Georgia, where there
has been a historical divide between citizens and state officials,
public trust in the criminal justice system is low. This inhibits
members of the public from reporting crime and testifying in court.
Through the project, prosecutors are forging closer ties with local
residents, considering public needs and concerns when setting
priorities, adopting a proactive approach to certain crime problems, and
addressing some of the underlying causes of public insecurity. Click
here to read more:


Claude Case Continues to Affect Freedom of Information Jurisprudence

In 2006, freedom of information advocates won a major victory when the
Inter-American Court of  Human Rights ruled in Claude Reyes and Others
v. Chile that the American Convention on Human Rights gives citizens the
right of access to government-held information. That decision continues
to reverberate in Latin America, where civil society groups are fighting
“soft censorship”—governments’ use of advertising funds to reward
friendly media outlets and punish critical ones. In Argentina,
Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)—with the support of the
Justice Initiative—won an important case in July when an appeals court
ruled that the government of Neuquen Province must release information
about its allocation of advertising funds. The Argentine court cited the
Claude ruling in finding that ADC has a right to information on the
government’s advertising practices. For more about the Claude case,
click here: http://www.justiceinitiative.org/db/resource2?res_id=103448. 
For more about soft censorship in Argentina, click here:

Op-Ed: "Grant Full Citizenship to All Born in the Country"

An op-ed published by the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald in June
criticizes the Dominican Republic's plan to issue color-coded identity
documents on the basis of race. Calling the proposed documents “a
modern-day scarlet letter of statelessness,” authors Indira Goris,
program officer for the Justice Initiative, and Caroline
Bettinger-Lopez, fellow at Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute
and Human Rights Clinic, focus on the tenuous position of Dominican
citizens who are ethnically Haitian. The op-ed argues that the Dominican
Republic’s plan for a “Pink Book of Foreigners” will “exacerbate the
widespread discrimination already faced by Dominicans of Haitian
descent.” Click here to read the full op-ed:

The URL for this page is:

The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open
Society Institute , pursues law reform activities grounded in the
protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal
capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines
litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination
of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas:
national criminal justice, international justice, freedom of information
and expression, and equality and citizenship. Its offices are in Abuja,
Budapest, and New York. 


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