ILAC announces expansion to Washington, D.C.

We caught up with Christian Åhlund, ILAC’s Executive Director, to hear more about ILAC’s opening an office in Washington and other developments as the Consortium fully enters its second decade of operations. 

For those who are unfamiliar with ILAC, could you give a bit of history as to why the Consortium was formed and the role it has taken over the years?

In the late 1990´s a number of international rule of law development organizations, colleagues and friends got together to discuss the lack of coordination between implementers, donors, and local stakeholders when delivering legal assistance programs in post conflict countries.  Governments in fragile, post conflict countries are often ill-equipped to deal with and coordinate the offers and the work by scores of international actors coming into the country to do good.

We had all seen the damage uncoordinated support can do in post conflict scenarios and decided to build a consortium that could act as a broker bringing together donors, implementers and government and civil society recipients.  Thus, with the invaluable support by organizations like the International Bar Association, l ́Union Internationale des Avocats and the International Commission of Jurists, the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) was formed. ILAC began its operations in September of 2002 with initial funding from Swedish Sida.

Today, ILAC is a non-profit organization headquartered in Stockholm that comprises over 50 international organizations of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and academics, that have come together to better coordinate their work, make expert assessments, and advise stakeholders on how to rebuild justice systems in post conflict countries.  Our member organizations represent more than three million individuals worl-wide. Over the years, ILAC has initiated and coordinated support in over 15 countries, in projects  ranging from training judges in Iraq, running a nation-wide legal aid program in Haiti to building an independent bar association in Afghanistan.

While I understand the Consortium concept in theory, can you give a real world example of how ILAC works?

Sure!  I think the best example is what ILAC is doing right now in the Middle East and North Africa.  In February 2011, only a few weeks after Ben Ali’s ouster in January 2011 ,we were invited by the new Tunisian government to help reinforce its justice system.  As a first step, ILAC launched a project to train the country’s judges on how their role is changing in the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy.  With our successful program underway and with funding from Swedish SIDA, other governments in the region asked for ILAC’s help.  The result is now a comprehensive regional program, which spans five countries and is implemented by ten ILAC member organizations.

It is important to note that in carrying out assessments and making recommendations as well as in implementing the programs, we rely on our 50 member organizations.  For example, in Tunisia it is the International Bar Association and the CEELI Institute that are running the judicial training program while the American Bar Association is leading efforts in Libya strengthening its human rights council, and so forth.

This program shows what ILAC is all about – bringing together recipient governments with implementers and donors for the most effective results.

So it is ILAC’s member organizations that implement the actual technical assistance projects?

Yes. While we coordinate the assessments, develop project recommendations, and secure funding we rely on the true technical experts – our 50 member organizations – to deliver the programs and impact.

In addition to Tunisia, where has ILAC worked?

Over the years, ILAC has initiated fact-finding missions and/or legal reform programs in Afghanistan, Algeria, DRC, East Timor, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Syria. Funding has been provided by various sources including different UN agencies as well as the governments of Ireland, Sweden and the UK.

So why make the move to open a Washington D.C. office now?

Although we have several American member organizations, ILAC needs to become better known among US-based decision makers and donors, including the UN and other international organizations. This need has coincided with the opportunity to recruit Quinn O’Keefe to lead our efforts in Washington.  She is someone we have known for several years as executive director of the CEELI Institute, an ILAC member organization based in Prague.  Through her work at CEELI Institute and with Human Rights First and the American Bar Association, Quinn has a successful track record with the US administration and other governments and foundations on how best to coordinate human rights and rule of law development work with local civil society and stakeholders and their international counterparts.  A lawyer by training, Quinn has worked with human rights and legal communities in Central and South Asia and, most recently, in the Middle East and North Africa to help convey their needs to an international audience.

What role will the Washington office play with ILAC’s member organizations?  

The role of the ILAC Washington office will be three-fold:

1.       To raise ILAC´s profile with the US legal community, including relevant government agencies;

  1. To make ILAC better known among US-based donors; and
  2. To liaise with the UN and other US-based international organizations.

In carrying out these activities, ILAC will not compete for resources with its member organizations. On the contrary, by identifying projects and mobilizing funds, ILAC will increase the possibilities for its US-based member organizations to be active in various efforts to reinforce justice systems in post-conflict countries.

What’s on the horizon for ILAC this summer and beyond?

Lots! We are busy in the Middle East and North Africa where we recently launched a two-year program funded by Swedish SIDA that aims to rebuild the faith in and capacity of justice systems across the region. This program is the largest endeavor ILAC has ever undertaken. We are also coordinating a comprehensive program in Burma where a number of our member organizations have already launched projects aimed at increasing access to justice.

All sounds very promising. Thank you again, Christian, for taking the time to catch us up on ILAC’s latest.