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August 24, 2016

Leveraging Regional Strategies to Make Lasting Change

Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative

A particular strength of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is our broad presence in a large number of countries, making cross-border and regional rule of law programming a relatively easy and valuable complement to our in-country assistance. We look for ways to take advantage of this asset, and several of our current programs are leveraging it in important ways.

In some cases, a regional approach is built into our program design. This is the case with our regional Central Asia court monitoring program featured in this issue.  Using the results of court monitoring and stakeholder input, it aims to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice actors throughout the region to coordinate within and across national boundaries to handle drug-related cases fairly and effectively. We have also taken a regional approach to judicial capacity building in the Great Lakes region of Africa and to strengthening the legal profession in the Balkans. Similarly, our Central America program is helping Guatemala and El Salvador improve their response to increasing levels of violence by bolstering the use of scientific evidence in criminal cases. Working with justice sector institutions in the region, ABA ROLI is developing a regional evidentiary benchbook that provides judges and prosecutors with a reference guide for resolving legal issues involving forensic evidence.

In other cases, a regional strategy is more opportunistic, leveraging ABA ROLI programs in neighboring countries to be mutually supportive and build regional rule of law networks. This was the case earlier this month, for example, when, with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, we supported representatives of the recently established Tajikistani national bar association—the Union of Advocates of Tajikistan—to travel to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to meet with their Kyrgyzstani counterparts, representatives of the Advocatura. With support from the United States Agency for International Development, ABA ROLI has been working with the Kyrgyzstani bar association, which is about one year ahead of bar associations in neighboring countries in setting up a unified advocates’ association. The two groups shared their experiences as nascent unified bar associations and exchanged lessons learned in bar association management.

The benefits of such regional programming are manifold. It strengthens the capacity to address cross-border rule of law problems, such as human trafficking, building regional networks that facilitate critical international mutual legal assistance. It supports the sharing of particularly relevant lessons learned in similar legal, practical and political contexts, sometimes creating valuable competitive pressures on justice sector actors to keep up with reforms underway in neighboring states. It can also tie programming to relevant developments in regional organizations. We have seen this, for example, in our regional anti-corruption programming in Asia-Pacific, which has drawn from and contributed to the development of new norms and best practices at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Finally, regional approaches are a valuable strategy in reinforcing the sustainability of rule of law programs, building regional networks of reformers who can support each other long after the particular program of assistance has run its course. An example of this impact—one we are particularly proud of—is the Arab Women’s Legal Network. The network was launched with ABA ROLI assistance more than 10 years ago and is still providing a valuable forum for supporting women lawyers in the Middle East and North Africa region.

For all of these reasons, regional programming is a key instrument in the ABA ROLI tool-box, an approach that leverages our multi-country presence and networks and stretches donor funding for particularly impactful programming. We are pleased to be in a position to support such programming, will continue to look for opportunities to do so and welcome ideas from donors and partners to that end.

Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative