El Salvador Becomes IDLO’s 27th Member Party
Rome, Italy – 27 March 2012 - IDLO’s Director General Irene Khan warmly welcomed El Salvador as IDLO’s 27th Member Party, at a signing ceremony today at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“El Salvador’s accession to IDLO is a sign of the continued support and commitment of governments to promote good governance around the world,” said Ms. Khan. “Advancing the rule of law to create greater opportunities has become a priority for many countries and we hope to continue expanding the organization’s outreach in the Americas.”
“I am delighted that El Salvador has joined IDLO,” declared Maria Eulalia Jimenez, Minister Counselor of the El Salvador Embassy to Italy. “The rule of law and good governance are a high priority for my country and we look forward to making a significant contribution to the progress of the organization’s work.”
H.E. Ertharin Cousin, United States Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome, current President of the IDLO Assembly of Parties, said “It is with great pleasure that we welcome El Salvador to IDLO’s Assembly of Parties, we look forward to its active role in the future governance of IDLO.”
Over the past 25 years, IDLO has trained legal professionals from El Salvador in areas including international commercial public law, comparative judicial reform and the judicial and regulatory aspects of microfinance.
IDLO has implemented a variety of programs in the Americas, including strengthening and expanding HIV-related legal services in Guatemala, supporting the humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Haiti and assisting anti-corruption initiatives for legal professionals in Peru and Nicaragua. In Asuncion, Paraguay, from 27-28 February 2012, IDLO hosted a regional workshop for public officials on best practices, standards and procedures for investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and empowering women and girls.
Bringing HIV under the Rights Agenda
David Patterson has come a long way since backpacking around the world in search of a cause. He traces his interest in HIV and health law back to an episode in his native Australia, when an insurance offer came through his door. The eighties AIDS panic was raging, and the document came with a proviso: homosexuals need not apply. It was this brush with discrimination which fired up the lawyer and social activist in him.
Some 25 years later, the man who runs IDLO’s Social Development Unit is convinced his job is the best in the organization — if also the most affecting. “When it comes to working on HIV,” he says, “staff put more of themselves into it than in any other area of law. It’s very emotive. You’re dealing with extreme vulnerabilities.”
Legal officer Namizata Meite, whose brief is HIV in Francophone Africa, confirms the experience is often one of personal intensity. She tells of watching Hortense, a Beninoise women’s activist living with HIV, conduct an IDLO-sponsored awareness session in Cotonou. “Seeing this passionate woman jolt her peers out of their despondency was electrifying,” Ms Meite recalls. “The women were spellbound, and so was I. Day and night, whatever the time, Hortense will answer calls from women looking for legal redress, or just for someone to pour their hearts out to.”
IDLO’s emphasis on women living with HIV reflects their much tougher lot: in Benin as elsewhere in Africa, women are the first to be diagnosed as they undergo pregnancy-related tests. They are also the first to be abandoned when husbands hear of their status. Popular fear and ignorance push them to the harsh edge of society.
In the last three years, working with its own alumni and women lawyers in Benin, IDLO has helped create HIV-focused legal services where none existed before. Many of the beneficiaries had faced violence and the unlawful disclosure of their medical files. Some had been deprived of their rightful inheritance. Others had lost jobs and livelihoods. All had suffered forms of stigmatization and persecution. In a number of instances, IDLO has helped bring legal action against the alleged culprits. But with many Africans still skeptical of the formal court system, solutions have more often been extra-judicial. Mediators have been trained to apply their dispute-settling skills to situations involving HIV status. Overall, in Benin alone, some 200 cases have been solved. Legal services are now part of the country’s national HIV strategy.
Benin is one of several nations where IDLO has put its legal muscle behind the defense of people living with HIV. Targeted action has gone hand in hand with training, information campaigns, institutional support and technical assistance to governments. At a drug rehabilitation center in the Chinese city of Kunming, a Legal Aid Center now provides individuals with confidential advice. In Indonesia, by contrast, a model was piloted involving community-based legal solutions. In typical IDLO fashion, there is no single, rigid model: projects are nimble, tailored, and locally-rooted.
Underneath them all, however, a broader, near-philosophical endeavor can be glimpsed. It is one which seeks to redefine HIV itself: for IDLO, what was purely a matter of public health must become one of justice. The logic and language of medicine, of HIV as a ‘condition,’ are no longer enough: they must make room for those of the law. “The idea is to say: ‘Hey, these people have rights,’” David Patterson concludes. “And they must be put on the table, and thought through, and properly articulated.’”
IDLO Toasts Green Bid Win
Excitement shone out of the stream of emails flowing through Rome headquarters late on Thursday. IDLO, it turned out, had just been picked by the UN to lead a new project: ensuring that signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity can meet their commitments.
As the body of international law on sustainable development keeps growing, so does IDLO’s remit. Where it once narrowly targeted justice departments and court systems, the organization is now helping build up legal muscle across government ministries and policy-making.
“Lawyers in trade and natural resource ministries,” IDLO’s Marie-Claire Cordonier Segger explains, “are handed down tons of treaty obligations that their governments have signed up to. Implementing these is a complex, cross-cutting affair. They have little specialist support, and often feel abandoned.”
Ms Cordonier Segger’s job title is Head of Economy and Trade at IDLO; part of her mission is to stimulate the creation of a green economy. If the premise is simple — in most countries, the ‘brown economy’ is hardwired into the legal set-up —, the solutions are not.
Subsidies for fossil fuels are arguably the biggest hurdle on the path to clean growth. Yet removing these subsidies is politically fraught. Done abruptly, it may antagonize those it was most designed to benefit: the poor. January’s fuel protests in Nigeria suggest that football aside, the one rallying point for the nation’s divided polity is the defense of cheap petrol. In Indonesia and elsewhere, similar protests have erupted in recent years.
IDLO concedes that dirty fuel subsidies are too big a beast to tackle overnight. What does work in the shorter term, the organization argues, is to replicate successful local schemes globally, in an ever-expanding quilt of good practise. This means that on the green economy front too, IDLO is now drawing on its expertise to tell Kenya what Mexico has done well, or vice versa. The instances are countless, and often exportable. In parts of Vietnam, carbon credit schemes now reward residents for maintaining mangroves. The policy is seen as crucial if the country is to mitigate the risk of crippling floods.
The Vietnamese model — paying people to preserve the ecosystem, rather than chop down trees — is typical of the global reversal of economic incentives and disincentives advocated by Ms Cordonier Segger. Much of this rebalancing, she says, can be achieved through less heavy-handed taxation — by providing credits for clean energy such as solar power, for example, instead of subjecting it to punitive levies.
An inter-governmental organisation IDLO may be, but the ethos of an NGO occasionally lurks beneath. In conversations with its staff, global issues often give way to site-specific stories, empathetically told. Yolanda Saito’s background lies in human rights law: she stresses that the green economy’s success hangs on embracing local interests and concerns. Both she and Ms Cordonier Segger speak of training indigenous mediators in Guatemala to ensure fair access to resources. They passionately bring up the case of the impoverished Andean community of Ambrosio Lazo, in Ecuador: for its people, something as vital as selling a pig involves an arduous six-day walk. Here, access to fair trade markets and carbon trading rights are nothing short of a lifeline.
Neither Ms Cordonier Segger, nor Ms Saito will deny that the green economy is a recent area of interest for IDLO: it may take time for different projects to gel under an overarching conceptual umbrella. But there is an exploratory fizz to the notion, and the generous reach of brave new ideas.
South Sudan Still Key Target for IDLO Support
How do you enshrine the rule of law in a nation that did not exist a year ago? One that is, moreover, riddled with economic and security challenges? Add a change of official language into the mix, and the job may seem little short of daunting.
Rajula Atherton, IDLO Country Director for South Sudan, is not one to obfuscate the scale of the task. She credits her national counterparts for her undiminished confidence: “smart, committed, and immensely appreciative”.
Ms Atherton is keen to point out IDLO’s latest achievement: a bill which it helped draft is shortly due to be approved by the government in Juba. It sets up a Legal Training Institute, whose mission is to re-equip lawyers schooled in the old Sudan to work in their new country. With less than a year’s training, they are to switch from Sharia-based law to common law — almost certainly the world’s only such example of skills transfer. The course includes training for the new diploma exam, without which lawyers may no longer practise.
South Sudan’s judges too are being re-trained, in a project run by IDLO in partnership with the US State Department, the Dutch government and the European Union. With the new country ditching Arabic for English, language classes must also be provided, alongside topical training.
While many South Sudanese understand English, speaking skills remain limited. The language training involves applied dialogue drills, with judges pairing up for conversation about a range of subjects. The exercise adds a layer of peer-to-peer socialising to the substantive and procedural law coursework.
The intense classroom activity reflects a radical reinvention underway in South Sudan, aimed at reversing decades of political, cultural, and religious domination by the North. Independence last July did more than draw a new border on the map. The new nation chose to de-couple from the Arabic-speaking Islamic world, aligning itself with a different geopolitical space: that of Anglophone East Africa.
The move involves rewiring values, outlooks and institutions, as well as embedding English in all areas of national life. Tellingly, IDLO’s work on the judiciary in South Sudan is being led by a ‘re-pat’ from Uganda, who trained there after arriving as a boy refugee.
This regional re-positioning also explains why IDLO is drawing on its Kenyan experience for another of its projects: helping South Sudan draft a new Constitution, funded by the Canadian government. With the organization’s support, a Constitutional Commission came into being in January. Yet progress has been slow: the body has yet to meet in session.
Sumit Bisarya, IDLO’s Lead Legal Officer, is a frequent visitor to Juba. He says the Commission’s teething troubles are, at least in part, down to South Sudan’s sharpening political competition. “There is a sense that the national consensus, which lasted for about six months after independence, is beginning to fray.” Smaller parties are increasingly claiming a share of the spoils from the dominant SPLM, which draws its legitimacy from the armed struggle.
The political factor may yet slow down the wholesale remaking of South Sudan. That such a vast institutional endeavor is taking place in a nation with fragile security, little infrastructure, and a largely subsistence economy is nevertheless being seen as an encouraging sign. High aid levels suggest donors remain committed to the country, ensuring that IDLO is there to stay.