Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Jordan

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute is named after a Swedish man. That's all you need to know to know it is probably doing a good thing.

They have an office in Amman, Jordan which mostly focuses on human rights law throughout the Middle East.

What they want to do is get the judges and lawyers in each Middle Eastern country to undertake a review of all their legal code as relates to a particular branch of human rights law.

First, RWI contacts the Head of the Judicial Unit and explains what they want to do. If the Judicial Unit Head agrees (and apparently they usually do), the Head signs a Memorandum of Understanding with RWI and then they can get to work.

[I thought that was funny because I've always gotten the impression that Iraq's justice system, for example, is very corrupt. I always remember this story http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/23/world/fg-iraq-woman23. So I was wondering why Iraq's judiciary would ever want to sign an agreement that would require them to review human rights law. But I was told that the Iraqis involved are very hard-working and dedicated.]

The first step is to find lawyers and judges who want to be part of a Working Group. Then, those lawyers and judges pick a topic. In Morocco, they chose labor and women's rights laws. In Algeria, they chose child rights, and in Jordan the penal code. Iraq doesn't know what their focus area will be, yet. They are still deciding.

The Working Group starts to meet and to fulfill its purpose. The members have to investigate how local laws compare to international standards.

Each Working Group has a leader who stays in contact with RWI. And maybe two to three times a year, the Working Group members from the entire Arab region get together so they can talk, discuss, and compare progress and learn from each other.

Because the process is signed off by each country's judiciary, and because the work is done not by RWI but by the volunteer judges and lawyers in the Working Group, it makes for a very non-confrontational approach. Sometimes NGOs come in and say: we have the money, so do what we say. But that's not the case here. There's very little money, in fact. All the members of the Working Groups are involved without compensation, so they really have to be committed to the cause.

RWI has already been supporting these Working Groups for about three or four years in Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria. Those countries have made more progress, are moving faster, and are more sold on the process. The newer countries (Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, and Libya) are still organizing themselves, and then there's the effect of outside events. For example, there's a Working Group in Libya but it's not really meeting at the moment because the security is bad. They wanted to include Egypt, but couldn't, also because of recent events.

The idea is that if the Working Groups get far enough, they will take their investigation of national versus international law and incorporate it into the judicial curriculum for current law students. In that sense, the change that they hope to see in application of the law would come to fruition years from now. But it would be good, solid, internally-motivated change.

I asked: in Lebanon, they just passed a law against domestic violence by the skin of their teeth, and there was lots of opposition to the law from people who I guess like to see husbands beating up their wives, or something. So how would Lebanon's judiciary have agreed to RWI coming in and trying to change those laws? And I was told: it's not that RWI changes laws, they just convene the Working Group under the Judicial Unit, which compares country and international law, tries to see what is different, and one day maybe the law school curriculum is changed to instill a greater sensitivity to human rights in graduating students.

Then I thought of something else: in Morocco, the Working Group is looking at women's law. But just a year ago or so, a girl was raped, was forced to marry her rapist, and then she committed suicide. So how can the Working Group deal with that? And I was told: the Working Group probably didn't choose women's law based on a particular case. The first issue they looked at was labor laws. Then they added family law. And they just look at what's the same and what's different between international and national law.

But I think that when it comes to women's law, they'll just find so many discrepancies, it'll be like, what the heck??? It's just be super depressing, right?

Some countries, like Morocco, have supremacy of international law over national law for any branch of international law for which Morocco has signed and ratified a treaty. That's kind of cool! So if a judge is aware of that and wants to apply an international standard in a situation where the local laws are not adequate, then s/he can.

In Jordan, judges have been applying or meeting international law standards in some cases.

They use an RWI booklet for guidance. This booklet was compiled by a coordinator in Algeria. It is full of cases in the Arab world were judges applied international law in their sentences and decisions. Seeing all these cases can be encouragement for other judges and prosecutors to do the same. It's not cases that happened in Europe or elsewhere, but right at home. So the judges can say: okay, there's a precedent for it and it's acceptable here in the Middle East and North Africa. They have this booklet for free in English and Arabic on the RWI website.

I think it sounds like a very decentralized process, because you have all the Working Groups, who are in contact with the office in Amman, which in turn is in contact with the office in my dear, darling Sweden. That office is always involved as well.

Last but not least, it looks like this process of an internal Working Group in which lawyers and judges investigate their own laws had not been tried by RWI in any of their other world-wide regions before. The Middle East and North Africa is the first place it's being done. That's nice and creative!

Other glimpses of Sweden in the office:

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