September 07, 2016

Bar Association Leaders from across the Balkans Region Convene to Discuss Collaboration Opportunities, Sign Memorandum of Understanding

From March 27–28, leaders of bar chambers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia met in Belgrade to discuss bar leadership and how their regional network—the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN)—can strengthen bar associations and advocacy in the region. The bar leaders also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work together in protecting the independence of the legal profession and in developing their institutions’ capacity to be justice-sector leaders.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) implements a program supporting the network, which brings advocates, bar chambers and civil society together to strengthen advocacy throughout the region. ABA ROLI launched the network in May 2014 in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, during a conference that gathered more than 40 leaders from the criminal-defense and civil-society communities to discuss common challenges. Additionally, ABA ROLI continues to facilitate the network’s activities and foster cooperation among its members. Conference participants identified five substantive areas—including legal aid, training, criminal law reform, bar chamber capacity, and media and public awareness—as the most pressing regional issues their network should address. Working groups set up to focus on each of these areas have developed project ideas that will be implemented this spring.

The March conference further strengthens the coordination among the region’s bar chambers. President of the Macedonian Bar Association Nikola Dodevski said, the network “will make us stronger and united.” Bar association leaders from Western Europe and the United States, including American Bar Association (ABA) President William C. Hubbard, attended the meeting.

“Just as ABA has become a voice for reform on important legal issues,” said Hubbard, “your bars and the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network can become important voices for reform on issues of pressing importance in this region.” He said that the bar associations can work for reforms, such as equality of arms in criminal procedure, that make the justice system fairer. Highlighting collaborative approaches initiated by the ABA to tackle problems in the U.S. justice system, such as access to justice and expanding legal aid in civil matters, Hubbard also emphasized the value of working with other players in the justice sector to achieve common goals.

President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe Maria Slazak, who leads the largest regional network of European bar associations with more than a million members, talked about the strength of regional networks and the power of solidarity within the profession in protecting citizens’ rights.

The BRRLN also previewed its website, which was later launched on April 6, to allow the region’s advocates and civil society to share resources and information.

To learn more about our Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network Program, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.