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Bringing the Rule of Law to Lands Besieged by Chaos

Jurisprudence: From his Institute in Rome, Bill Loris teaches attorneys from developing nations about need for countries to set up the procedures for a social contract.

October 21, 2000|ELLEN KNICKMEYER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ROME — The voice came from the dark, an unseen speaker among the men passing a candle hand to hand in a blacked-out capital as they briefed lawyer Bill Loris on his law-and-order mission in lawless Albania:

"Keep it simple," the voice urged Loris.

It was 1992, a time when derelict legal systems across the post-Cold War world were in urgent need of repair, and the American-born lawyer had flown in from his Rome-based law center to see what he could do for a country just plunged from 40 years of totalitarian communist rule into near-total anarchy.

It was a dispiriting landscape: factories freshly looted, food riots apt to turn deadly. To draft a new legal code, Albanians had to draw in part on the memory of an aged ex-law professor newly freed from a prison camp.

The old man's crime under the old regime: possessing a law book.

Loris describes a meeting that the professor was invited to address. "He talked about having a system where there's no rule of law, and about what it meant: Arbitrary. Unfair. Nobody answers for anything," Loris recalls.

"At the end of the session, everybody wept."

The results, nearly a decade later, are mixed. Much money has been spent to set up courthouses in every town and put judges and lawyers through regular qualification tests. But guns and clans still rule much of the mountain nation, and the nascent court system is riddled with corruption. The Interior Ministry frequently accuses the courts of freeing criminals for money, and a new justice minister is sacking corrupt judges.

By offering training sessions on the hows and why-should-yous of implementing the laws, Loris and his International Development Law Institute have become pioneers in a new phenomenon that might be called lawyers without borders.

The institute operates around the world, including in East Timor, where Indonesia's scorched-earth withdrawal last year left the island territory without a functioning government or court system.

Westerners fed up with their own litigious societies may think the last thing any troubled country needs is more lawyers--but that's because Westerners have what is lacking in so many countries governed by might and whim: the rule of law.

"Until you establish the rules and procedures that consolidate a social contract . . . nothing else will last," said Michael Miklaucic of the U.S. government's Agency for International Development, which is working with Loris's group to instill the rule of law in East Timor.

He spoke by telephone from Washington.

Loris and another American lawyer founded their institute in 1983, when both were with USAID in Egypt. They dreamed it up on a Nile River fishing trip as they mulled over ways to put lawyers in the developing world on a more equal footing in dealing with the suits at powerful bodies like the World Bank.

The institute went intergovernmental and international in 1991. The United States is one of 15 member states, along with Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Senegal, Sudan and Tunisia.

Loris is director general. The chairman of its board is a World Bank senior vice president.

The international background of its 55 staffers means familiarity with legal systems around the world, whether they are based on English common law or the Napoleonic code.

The institute has produced 9,000 alumni from 160-plus countries.

Lawyers and other law workers get direction in such areas as e-commerce, arbitration, international trade and avoiding corruption.

The institute's courses are taught in an old palazzo shared with a convent near Rome's Spanish Steps. There's a satellite office in Manila, and field offices around the world, including a burgeoning operation in Eastern Europe.

Negotiations with Third World client governments often start with such basics as who provides the pens and paper for the classes.

The students often are top-echelon attorneys in their countries.

A recent course in Rome drew lawyers from the finance ministries of Ethiopia and Albania and from the attorney general's offices of Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius and Zimbabwe, and at least one cabinet undersecretary from Nepal.

Instructors delivered insights into how the lawyers could get better deals for their countries from such institutions as the International Monetary Fund, with sometimes tight economic prescriptions that aren't always appreciated by officials in the developing world.

"I don't think we'll be able to meet on an equal footing, but we'll at least be able to understand where they're coming from," said one student, Anthony Okara, state counsel with the Kenyan attorney general's office in Nairobi.

The serene Roman setting can be quite a contrast to the lethal lawbreaking going on at home.

During one 10-week course, a family-law attorney learned of the Christian-Muslim rampages that killed hundreds of people in her native Nigeria.

A young woman from the Zimbabwe attorney general's office read headlines about dozens dying in campaign violence.

Loris said the institute lays down rules for keeping the conflicts out of its classrooms. "If we forget to do it, we have conflicts," he said.

"I've seen some people whose countries are at war begin the class at war," he said. People who start out refusing to sit next to one another often end up friends, he said.

Projects sometimes follow closely behind international peacekeepers and aid agencies.

Ordinarily, though, the organization prefers to bide its time before plunging into legal messes abroad.

"If you want to get something tomorrow, they might not be able to do it for you," acknowledged Miklaucic of USAID, which also has worked with the institute on projects in Mongolia, Laos, Oman, Madagascar and Bulgaria.

Miklaucic called that "to the credit of their quality control."

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