Public Seminar in Japan Addresses “A Pivotal Challenge: Building Resilient and Responsive Justice Institutions in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries”

The 2017 ILAC’s Annual General Meeting in Tokyo, Japan, culminated with a public seminar on how rebuilding justice systems can assist developing countries in overcoming fragility and the effects of conflict. The speakers brought a wide range of experience on a very concrete question – what are the challenges and the opportunities presented by the current trend toward inclusion of rule of law and governance goals in contemporary development standards?

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and ILAC member, Japan Federation of Bar Associations hosted the meeting with support from the Ministry of Justice of Japan.

The keynote, Mr. Jöran Bjällerstedt, the Swedish Ambassador-at-large for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding stressed the importance of grounding donor assistance in local political priorities – and contexts to increase the likelihood of long-term sustainability:

     Horizontal partnerships are not easy but they are necessary. Effective aid supports political efforts. It is not enough for development projects to work well on their own terms, they must make a difference.

Two panel discussions followed.

The first, on the evolution of rule of law practice in fragile settings, featured former ILAC Executive Director Christian Åhlund, as well as UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon President (and ILAC Individual Member) Ivana Hrdličková.

A second panel on lessons learned at the national level featured Mr. Nelinho Vital, the Director of the Legislation and Legal Advisor Department of Timor Leste’s Ministry of Justice, as well as Ms. Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Programmes Director at the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and Dr. Daisaku Higashi, Associate Professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

In her comments, Ms. Jean-Baptiste struck a note of realism, saying that:

     Rule of law actors are in better shape but they are not yet fully ready. There are still competing goals and priorities in the field. While recent development standards set out a good platform to discuss how to prioritize, political agendas and donor pressure frequently remain the elephants in the room.

In summarizing, Ms. Hrdličková noted that it was now beyond dispute that justice reform must be part of sustainable development, and for that to work, judicial independence had to be the goal rather than mere judicial administration.

Mr. Nelinho agreed based on Timor Leste’s experience, “justice is crucial to peace building and independence is crucial to justice; judicial actors must be effective, swift, fair and transparent.”