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U.S. Will Help Train Judges in Arab Countries

Justice O'Connor Says U.S. Will Help Train Judges in Arab Countries

Supreme Court Justice speaks to media at Arab Judicial Forum in Bahrain

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Manama -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says the U.S. government, through its Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), will work with Arab governments in training judges.

O'Connor led the U.S. delegation to the Arab Judicial Forum, a three-day meeting of leading jurists from the Arab world and the international community hosted by Bahrain September 15-17.

The U.S. government cooperated with Bahrain in staging the Arab Judicial Forum as part of the MEPI. The MEPI programs aim to expand social, political, educational and economic opportunities for people in the Arab world and support U.S. efforts to create a Middle East Free Trade Area by the year 2013.

Bahrain's Justice Minister Jawad Salim Al-Arayed said judicial training will help Arab countries become better connected with global developments.

The forum drew about two hundred prominent jurists from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority as well as from the United States, Britain, France and international organizations.

Speaking to reporters in Manama September 17, O'Connor called the forum the first of many steps in the judicial dialogue between the Arab world and the international community. She said a judicial workshop for Arab women is planned for early 2004.

She added that several American law schools, such as Yale University, New York University, and the University of Michigan, will provide training in commercial arbitration, and transnational judgments for both new and experienced judges. Commercial arbitration, which bypasses time-consuming and expensive litigation, and transnational judgments are important legal instruments in global commerce.

Other areas of training involve programs to increase judicial efficiency so as to reduce the backlog of cases and to help Arab judges develop methods of alternative dispute resolution, O'Connor said.

Keith Henderson, who works for the International Foundation for Election Systems in Washington, D.C., said there is recognition among many Arab governments that they have to make promoting trade and investment a priority.

He said Arab jurists at the forum showed enthusiasm for developing a region-wide approach to enforcing court judgments, similar to the process under way in the European Community to harmonize the enforcement of court judgments in EC countries.

Henderson and his foundation played an important advisory role in the formulation of the Cairo Declaration on Judicial Independence in the Arab Region, which was issued at The Second Arab Justice Conference in Cairo in February 2003.

J. Clifford Wallace, a senior judge and Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals, said the Judicial Conference of the United States will participate in the MEPI programs to train Arab judges. The Judicial Conference consists of senior U.S. circuit judges and is the principal policy-making body for the administration of U.S. courts. Wallace is the chairman of the Mideast working group of the Judicial Conference's International Judicial Relations Committee.

"The Judicial Conference had been trying without much success to establish a dialogue with Arab jurists for several years," Wallace said. "The Arab Judicial Forum provided the opportunity that allowed the dialogue to open wide."

The Arab judicial systems are patterned after the French model, which selects and trains judges when they are university students, and, as a result, Arab judges tend to be life-long civil servants, O'Connor said.

In contrast, in the United States, people become judges later in life after distinguishing themselves as lawyers. The French model for producing judges can work in the changing global legal environment, provided that judges engage in career-long training, O'Connor said.

With regard to the issue of judicial ethical standards, O'Connor said virtually all Arab governments have signed international conventions guaranteeing judicial impartiality and independence and prohibiting improper judicial behavior. She said it is important that those standards be implemented on the practical level. In connection with that, she highlighted the need for judges to be paid well so as to reduce the temptation to accept bribes.

With regard to human rights, O'Connor and other participants in the forum emphasized that judges are the key figures in making sure that promises of basic freedoms embodied in the constitutions are kept. She said the role of judges in all countries is the same in that respect.

A judicial system that functions with independence and high ethical standards and without fear of reprisals from other branches of government is a core element of a successful country in the 21st century, she said.

Under the leadership of Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa, Bahrain has embarked on large-scale reforms, such as the creation of a constitutional monarchy with a parliament that was elected through universal suffrage in 2002.

Shortly before the Arab Judicial Forum opened, about one hundred demonstrators, shouting through bull horns and waving banners, marched in the streets outside the hotel where the event was to take place. With police looking on, they aligned themselves on the sidewalk across from the hotel, voiced their demands for greater female rights and an end to police misconduct, then dispersed.

On the final day of the forum, members of the Bahrain Human Rights Society visited the media room of the forum and passed out flyers and copies of the society's report on the human rights situation from January 2001 to December 2002.

One of the flyers praised the government for releasing detainees, allowing exiled dissidents to return, and abolishing the State Security Decree Law, but it added, "the role of the judiciary in protecting liberties and human rights is still considerably limited."

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