Thoughts on the Evolution of a Rule of Law Justice Sector Program

Ideally, the genesis of an international Rule of Law “development” project should entail the meetings of the minds between the donor and the beneficiary.  Some of us like to say that there has to be “buy-in” from the host government as well as the individual host organizations that might be involved in the project.  This would show the cooperative efforts of all concerned towards what could be the key goals of the mission:  strengthening of the rule of law and the fostering of  accountability and transparency.  For example, a specific justice sector program’s mission might be to build the capacity of the host country’s criminal justice sector institutions through improving the ability of their professional staff to deliver fair and effective justice services to citizens.  Sometimes, the initial focus is to help a country build its police and prosecutorial capacity through formal training programs of academic instruction.

What I have discovered is that what the donor organization (which may include the program implementer as well) wants to see happen may not necessarily be best suited to the way the project should be carried out.  One does not become an international development practitioner overnight.  While an expatriate technical advisor may have stellar credentials from his or her prosecutorial days in their particular state or country, they may have never lived in a different environment other than their own.  This can lead to disastrous results because there is a lack of understanding of, and maybe a lack of empathy for, the recipient of the technical advice.

A long time ago, I witnessed a foreign “expert” deliver a lecture on American jurisprudence and individual rights to an academic group in a socialist country.  The audience was barely curious and did not seem to engage.  What the “expert” did not realize was the group’s lack of understanding of what he believed were common concepts, until someone asked “what is the right to privacy?”  Once it became obvious that there had been such a gulf between the lecturer and the trainees, the “expert” was able to correct the situation and begin to provide examples that the local nationals could finally relate to!

I was at the very beginning of my professional “Rule of Law” work, and it was a fine lesson for me too:  borrowing from the Spaniards, there are many “Ruperto el Experto” types, but few that meet the “experto crede Ruperto”  standard.

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