The Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN) Program is a regional program implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with the past support of the United States Agency for International Development and current support of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. This program began in 2013 as a three-year effort to strengthen the rule of law in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, by building mechanisms for collaboration and sharing best practices, tools, and knowledge among the region’s bar associations and justice-sector civil society organizations (CSOs). Now in its fourth year, the Network is a registered independent local organization in Macedonia, and ABA ROLI continues to provide technical assistance and support to make the Network a sustainable resource for lawyers and CSOs in the Balkans region.
To establish the foundation for the Network, in 2013 ABA ROLI conducted an assessment, Comparative Analysis of Criminal Defense Advocacy in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, that ABA ROLI presented at the opening conference of the Network. Forty justice-sector actors from across the Balkans participated in the conference, including bar association leaders, advocates, journalists and CSO representatives. During the conference, participants identified top challenges within defense advocacy including: Ex Officio (Court-Appointed Defense) and Legal Aid, Continuing Legal Education (CLE), Bar Chamber Capacity, Criminal Law Reform and Media and Public Awareness.
In March 2015, ABA ROLI organized a Leadership Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, and gathered CSOs and BRRLN bar chamber leaders to discuss bar leadership, formulate the governing structure for the Network and launch the BRRLN website (www.brrln.org), which is a virtual network for the BRRLN community. During the conference, the bar leaders also signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding to work together in protecting the independence of the legal profession and in developing their institutions’ capacity to be justice-sector leaders. ABA ROLI produced a short video about the conference found here: http://youtu.be/fmfT6wL5mVU. In January 2016, ABA ROLI held a follow on steering committee meeting in Macedonia for BRRLN bar leaders and CSOs to finalize the governing structure and discuss the sustainability of the Network.
In July 2015, ABA ROLI awarded three subgrant awards to local Balkan organizations to implement year-long projects based on proposals to strengthen defense advocacy in the region in the following areas:
In July 2015, ABA ROLI also launched a pilot bar mentorship initiative between the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates and the Minnesota State Bar Association; a delegation of Minnesota bar representatives traveled to Kosovo to begin to provide technical support on bar specialization, bar leadership in advocacy, promotion of young lawyers and gender issues. Representatives from the Kosovo Bar Association traveled to Minnesota in May 2016 to continue their interaction on these topics.
In September 2015, ABA ROLI held a five-day training-of-trainers for 27 advocates from the region during which participants developed interactive continuing legal education courses. During the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016, each participant delivered the course developed during the training-of-trainers to advocates in their home countries. Video-taped versions of those courses are available on the BRRLN E-Learning platform. (http://www.brrln.org/e-learning/)
In 2016, ABA ROLI, in partnership with Hogan Lovells LLC, the Embassy of the Netherlands, Partnership for Transparency Fund and United Nations Women, and OSCE, conducted a regional training program for 80 lawyers and civil society organization representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia on combating Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The training series responded to the need for lawyers and civil society to better understand effective responses to GBV victims, and to combat the under-reporting and the failure to prosecute that are pervasive in the region.
In January 2017, ABA ROLI registered the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network as a local and independent entity.
In October 2017, ABA ROLI received additional DRL funding to reinvigorate the Network and its members. From October 2017 through November 2018, ABA ROLI will focus on strengthening the sustainability of the Network, improve access to legal materials and collaborative resources for Network members, continue providing support for the Criminal Law Reform and Legal Aid working groups, empower BRRLN members to develop and advocate for solutions to continued rule of law challenges and support and engage with young lawyers.
For more detailed information about the project, please visit ABA ROLI’s website: http://ambar.org/abarolibalkans
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