ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III urged Congress March 30 to maintain funding in fiscal year 2013 for agencies and programs that support rule of law activities such as those implemented by the association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).
“Targeted foreign assistance to establish and enhance legal systems and institutions grounded in the rule of law is a critical component of U.S. foreign policy in the developing world, post-conflict counties and countries in transition,” Robinson wrote in a statement submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. He added that such assistance is vital in ensuring the protection and promotion of U.S. national security and economic interests.
Robinson explained that establishing legal structures and institutions based on the rule of law is a necessary prerequisite to creating durable democratic societies and successful market-based economies. U.S. businesses, he noted, are hesitant to invest in countries that lack sufficient legal protections and independent courts to fairly resolve business disputes.
ABA ROLI, which provides legal technical assistance to nations around the world, has promoted the rule of law in more than 80 countries since it was established in 1990. The program currently has nearly 700 staff, pro bono volunteers and other personnel in offices in Washington, D.C., and approximately 50 countries in every region of the world. ABA ROLI projects focus on strengthening the rule of law and promoting good governance in countries closely allied with the United States such as Jordan, Liberia, Mexico and the Philippines as well as countries where the relationships are more complex, including China, Ethiopia, Russia and Tajikistan.
“Through these programs, the ABA has a framework in place to respond to requests for assistance from every region of the world and can provide expertise in virtually every area of law, including, but not limited to, such areas as women’s rights, anti-human trafficking and anti-corruption, judicial reform, prosecutorial and defense bar reform, commercial law development, and access to justice and human rights,” Robinson wrote.
Some of the ABA ROLI projects include combating impunity for rape and others forms of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; improving court efficiency through the first-ever claims court program in the Philippines; helping increase the capacity of the government to introduce forensic evidence to combat massive human rights violations in Nepal; expanding access to justice and combating corruption in Russia; and launching a community-abased legal education program to combat force labor and sex trafficking in Tajikistan.
Robinson emphasized that the programmatic work is supported by legal research and assessments that produce findings that host country government leaders and policymakers use to prioritize and focus reform efforts.
He emphasized that funding for rule of law programs must be utilized in partnership with local leaders in an accountable, transparent and sustainable manner and that independent non-governmental organizations such as the ABA are more likely to develop long-term relationships that build capacity and allow for sustainable assistance efforts, thereby leveraging U.S. taxpayer funding.