On June 4, ABA ROLI hosted a panel discussion on the judiciary’s role in advancing equitable and sustainable economic growth, featuring speakers from across the Central Africa region. Judge Bernice Donald of the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, who is also a member of ABA ROLI’s Africa Council, opened the panel discussion. “The African Center for Justice program aims to support the judiciary and other justice sector actors in their role as guardians of the rule of law and champions of good governance, both of which are essential for equitable and sustainable economic development,” said Donald. The African Center for Justice (ACJ) program supports professional training with a comparative law approach and builds regional bonds that enable judges to gain knowledge through exchanges of experiences.
Panelists emphasized the critical role courts can play in ensuring that investment projects do not undermine human rights. Development-related environmental degradation can have tremendous economic consequences. Yet, when judges uphold national environmental-protection laws, they can protect poor communities that depend on forests and wildlife for subsistence. “By interpreting, enhancing and enforcing the law in an open, transparent and predictable manner, judges play a critical role in promoting sustainable and equitable economic development,” said Donald. “Judiciaries play a fundamental role in advancing the rule of law, promoting access to justice and eliminating poverty.”
Panelists also talked about the role of courts in combating corruption and in ensuring transparency in the management of public finances. They underscored that foreign investments can yield economic development that improves people’s living conditions only if public finances are managed well. In his closing remarks, U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo James Swan applauded the regional sharing of ideas and experiences.
The panel discussion was followed by a luncheon that featured remarks by high level officials from the U.S. Department of State and the DRC’s Ministry of Justice. Ambassadors and other representatives from the embassies of Belgium, Canada, the European Union, France and the United States, as well as key stakeholders from Burundi, DRC, Republic of Congo and Rwanda attended the luncheon. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski said “We are here to celebrate the launch of an initiative that’s all about America partnering with African citizens to build more just societies under the rule of law.” He added that the challenge was “ensuring that more and more people who have suffered a wrong can get help in righting it.”
Speaking on behalf of the DRC’s minister of justice and human rights, Andre Kalenga, deputy director for the cabinet to the minister, said that the regional ACJ program “strengthens the judicial systems of the region [and fosters] long-term collaboration between the countries in the region.” Kalenga added that the program will contribute to judicial reform in the DRC.
Malinowski emphasized that access to justice means more than just access to courts. “It means access to information and to government services from a government that is responsive to their needs,” he said.
“We want to see systems of governance and justice that focus on citizens, that work for and empower the poorest people in society, not those who already have so much,” Malinowski added. “This is the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do if you want to build stable, peaceful, prosperous and just societies.”
The panel discussion followed a related two-day workshop. Led by a legal expert from Burkina Faso and attended by 22 judges, lawyers and other experts from the four countries participating in ABA ROLI’s regional ACJ program, the June 2–3 training focused on the importance of strong environmental laws, as well as knowledgeable judiciaries familiar with national regulations and international standards in enabling sustainable and equitable economic development. The workshop, which incorporated presentations and interactive discussions, addressed a number of interrelated issues. Participants examined international principles and legal sources of environmental law, conducted comparative analysis of corporate social responsibility policies and identified best practices for courts and judges hearing environmental-protection cases. During country-focused breakout sessions, participants identified and discussed related national laws and practices, which they later shared with the larger group, highlighting the challenges and opportunities for each country’s judicial system in enforcing environmental protections.
The ACJ program is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
To learn more about our work in the Central Africa region, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].