February 01, 2015

Lawyers and Civil Society Convene to Take Stock, Gather Momentum for Balkans Regional Program

February 2015

A total of 26 lawyers and civil society representatives from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia participated in the three working-group meetings.

In November 2014, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) convened three working groups of the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN) to discuss legal training and education, criminal law reform, and media and public awareness, respectively. A total of 26 lawyers and civil society representatives from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia participated in the meetings.

Held in Durres, Albania, from November 7–8, the first meeting gathered 11 members of the network’s working group on legal education and training representing the five BRRLN countries and focused on expanding sustainable training opportunities for advocates through online continuing legal education (CLE) courses. Local non-governmental organizations will develop the courses, which will be available to advocates throughout the Balkans via a website that the BRRLN will launch in the spring. Idlir Peci, Albanian deputy minister of justice and former professor of criminal law and procedure at Utrecht University, facilitated a session on the importance of improving teaching methods and utilizing more interactive approaches in the region. Representatives from the Kosovo Bar Association gave a presentation on successful implementation of a CLE system, while delegates from Partners for Democratic Change-Serbia shared experiences in developing interactive, online criminal law courses.

From November 14–15, 10 BRRLN members attended the criminal law working group meeting in Mavrovo, Macedonia, to discuss challenges the region’s defense bar associations face. Participants voiced their concerns over some provisions of the criminal law frameworks of their respective countries. The group suggested the creation of a task force consisting of representatives of the bar associations, which will identify the most pressing criminal-law issues. Once the issues have been identified, the working group will develop reform strategies and advocate for their adoption. Participants also suggested making criminal law resources available on the BRRLN website.

Five of the members of the network’s media and public awareness working group—which is tasked with improving media portrayal and public perception of the region’s advocates and justice systems—met in Novi Sad, Serbia, from November 28–29. A media expert from the Serbia Bar Association spoke about the association’s media campaign during the 2014 advocates’ strike in Serbia, including the association’s strategy of making itself a reliable source of information for all interested journalists. Working-group members emphasized the importance of assessing media portrayals of advocates in each of the five BRRLN member countries to design appropriate strategies both to improve public perception of advocates and to strengthen advocates’ and bar associations’ relationship with journalists and the media.

The three November meetings—and two October meetings that focused on legal aid and the development of bar associations’ capacity—laid the groundwork for a Belgrade conference that executive members of the region’s bar associations and civil society organizations will attend in late March. The executives are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in developing the capacity of the BRRLN member bar associations.

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