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January 31, 2008

A Conversation with Rob Boone

January 2008

[The following was taken from Staff News Update, a newsletter for the staff of the American Bar Association]

Rob Boone is the first director of the Rule of Law Initiative, a public service program that advances the rule of law abroad. The Initiative was established in 2006, when the ABA’s five regional rule of law programs, some dating back 17 years, merged into one.

Staff News Update sat down with Boone to learn more about the Initiative.


The Rule of Law Initiative is relatively new in the ABA. Tell me more about it.

The Rule of Law Initiative is grounded in the ABA’s goal of advancing the rule of law around the world.

Some 400 staff and volunteers work in more than 40 countries.  Our programs work with local communities to build transparent, fair and efficient legal systems.  We strive to prevent corruption, human trafficking and gender-based violence, among other social threats, while also promoting access to justice, conflict mitigation and human rights.  We build awareness of civil rights and confidence in the rule of law. 


Before coming to the ABA, you headed many interesting international programs. How does your previous experience relate to your work here?

For the past decade, I worked for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime at its headquarters in Vienna as well as in South Africa and before that at the U.S. State Department. While in Vienna, I oversaw programs worldwide, and my colleagues and I helped countries fulfill their rule of law obligations under various UN treaties. 

In the field, I headed up the organization’s southern African activities, including training and technical assistance operations.  I was privileged to see first hand how our work helped save and improve people’s lives.  For example, we ran a series of centers to help survivors of rape and other violence to receive legal, medical and social services.  These centers became sanctuaries of safety. The women’s gratitude and hope inspired us to do everything possible for them.

While at State, I was in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  I developed and managed foreign assistance activities, which ironically included funding of programs such as the Rule of Law Initiative. It was also very satisfying to have led the U.S. delegation to the negotiations of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its three protocols, as these are some of the very same international legal instruments that ROLI is helping countries to implement today.

These experiences helped prepare me for the challenges and opportunities of the Initiative.


What are your some of your goals for the Initiative?

The ABA renewed its 17-year commitment to international rule of law with the creation of the Initiative last year.  One of my main goals is to build on that commitment, increasing the size and scope of our programs worldwide. 

In the short term, we are expanding our programs in Africa, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have been successful in substance but modest in scope.  New programs are already poised to open in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Mexico. 

Achieving these goals requires an experienced and dedicated team.  I am committed to hiring and retaining the best people for our programs—in Washington and around the world.


What is one relatively little-known fact about the Rule of Law Initiative?

Few people know the extent to which our programs have helped reform legal systems around the world. 

For example, at the end of the Cold War, when Russia wanted to introduce jury trials into its legal system, it turned to us for guidance.  Our programs worked with the post-Soviet government to train Russian judges, lawyers and prosecutors on the intricacies of jury trails.  As a result, we were present in the courtroom in 1993 when Russia held its first jury trial since czarist times.


Tell us how the Initiative partners with other ABA entities. 

We regularly collaborate with ABA entities.  Most recently, we worked with the Division of Public Education on a major civic education project in Qatar.  The division’s director, Mabel McKinney-Browning, traveled with our staff to Doha where she helped us launch the program, which will include a Law Day in May 2008.

Other examples include our providing expertise and assistance to the World Justice Project, plus our successful partnership with the Commission on Domestic Violence to address gender bias issues in China.  These are just a few examples of the many partnerships we’ve forged throughout the ABA. 

The support we’ve received from the ABA membership – some of whom who have lived for months or even years in countries where we work -- is extraordinary, and we’re always looking for ways for members to contribute, whether for a day, a week, a month, or even longer.


How can other ABA entities and staff learn more about the Initiative?

The best way to learn more about our programs is to visit our Web site at There, colleagues can sign up for the Rule of Law Initiative Update, our monthly e-newsletter. 

For ABA staff in the Washington office, we host brown bag lunches throughout the year.  These discussions are often led by members of our overseas staff, and they are great ways to learn more about the impact of the Initiative.