It began 20 years ago as a mainly volunteer American Bar Association project for lawyers to help build legal institutions in Central Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then known as CEELI -- the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative -- it had a budget of $450,000, plus a well-known booster, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Now it is known as the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, with a $32 million budget and worldwide programs in more than 40 countries, ranging from judicial training in Liberia to upgrading police forensics in Panama and launching the first small claims courts in the Philippines. "It's many small steps at a time trying to build a culture of lawfulness," says director Rob Boone (pictured below.)
Thursday night at the Mayflower Hotel, the ABA ROLI will mark its 20th anniversary with a gala event and award ceremony honoring Justice O'Connor and others including South African Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and CEELI co-founders Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former ABA president, and Miller Chevalier member Homer Moyer Jr.
A lot more than the name has changed in 20 years, says Boone. Instead of depending on volunter lawyers flying in for brief periods, the programs are now mainly run by full-time professionals, many based in the host countries. It also has begun to diversify its funding, which originally came almost exclusively from the State Department and the Agency for International Development. Last year, about 10% of the funding came from other sources includng foundations and foreign governments.
As an example Boone cited a program in the Democratic Republic of Congo aimed at the widespread problem of rape and sexual abuse. Money from the U.S. and Dutch government, as well as funds from the Soros and MacArthur foundations have gone toward a range of programs there, including health care to victims, legal aid clinics, training of judges and prosecutors, a "mobile court,' and even improvements in prison conditions. Since 2008, Boone said, there have been several hundred successful rape prosecutions in a culture where that used to be rare. Victims are beginning to feel that they have access to justice.
Especially since ROLI programs enlist local lawyers and other professionals, Boone said they have been received well and not viewed as "simply trying to export Anglo-American law." He added, "We don't go anywhere we are not welcome. We are neutral and apolitical."
In years to come, Boone says innovations will include more "thematic" programs that go across borders to several countries, as well as programs using new technology and media to reach young people. "It's a lot people doing a lot of work," said Boone, "but there is a lot of work to be done."