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Cablegate: Justice Minister Leads Way for Independent Courts

VZCZCXRO6129
PP RUEHAP RUEHBZ RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDT RUEHKN RUEHLMC RUEHMJ RUEHMR
RUEHPB
DE RUEHYN #2546/01 2411422
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291422Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5214
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCLM/MCC CANDIDATE COUNTRY COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 0119
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 002546

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PLEASE PASS TO NEA/PI FOR LAURA SCHULZ.

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAID KMCA KMPI YM
SUBJECT: JUSTICE MINISTER LEADS WAY FOR INDEPENDENT COURTS


SANAA 00002546 001.2 OF 002


1. SUMMARY: Ambassador met the Minister of Justice (MOJ)
Ghazi Shaif al-Aghbari on August 27 to discuss judicial
reforms and related programs. Under the new minister, Yemen
has taken substantive steps to strengthen the independence of
the courts, which has produced results in combating
corruption and lent credibility to the elections process.
The judiciary is also increasingly opening its doors to
women. Aghbari had high praise for U.S. programs in rule of
law, and welcomed future cooperation to assist commercial
courts. He promised his assistance to the American Bar
Association/Central and Eastern European Law Initiative
(ABA/CEELI), which recently encountered difficulties with
Yemen's legal community. Aghbari has delivered on issues
critical to Yemen's status with the Millennium Challenge
Corporation (MCC), and presented himself as a strong partner
for reform. END SUMMARY.

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Courts Declare Independence
---------------------------

2. On August 27, Ambassador discussed recent reforms in
Yemen's judiciary with MOJ al-Aghbari. The Minister pointed
to the removal of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) from the
President's Office as a significant step forward for reform,
noting as well the choice of Judge Essam al-Samawi, a young
and well-qualified professional, to head the body. The new
SJC will follow modern legal standards, said Aghbari, and
will be a forum for a "real exchange of ideas."

3. According to the new law, the Minister has a seat on the
SJC and serves as a link between the judiciary and executive
branches. All issues of judicial administration, including
hiring, firing, and professional accountability fall under
the purview of the legal oversight body. Aghbari explained
that the Ministry collects all complaints, especially those
concerning corrupt judges, and forwards them to the SJC. MOJ
proudly reported that the SJC had already taken decisive
action against 10 judges and lawyers, whose cases were
referred to the Attorney General for prosecution.

4. Aghbari, a former judge, claimed to have an explicit
mandate from the President to add muscle to the independent
judiciary. To this end, Aghbari recently helped pass
Republican Decrees detailing the functions of the SJC and
giving it an independent budget. This will allow the judges
to resist outside pressure and gain respect as an independent
institution, in his view.

------------------------------
MOJ: Yemen Has Come a Long Way
------------------------------

5. To help foster an image of impartial justice in Yemen,
Aghbari said that unlike other ministers he would not
participate in campaigning for the September elections. This
was particularly important, he explained, as MOJ is
responsible for ruling on all elections disputes. In
general, however, Aghbari marveled at Yemen's progress,
saying his country had "opened the door" for democracy in the
region. This is even more impressive, said MOJ, given that
Yemen was once one of the most traditional and conservative
countries. Within the legal system, Aghbari praised the
recent admission of women to the Higher Judicial Institute
(HJI) and the nomination of women judges for the Aden Court
of Appeals and Yemen's Supreme Court.

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"Send My Judges to Morocco"
---------------------------

6. Ambassador indicated the USG's desire to help with
judicial reform, and offered the example of the MEPI-funded
Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP). CLDP has offered
to come to Yemen and work with commercial court judges, said
Ambassador, which will strengthen rule of law and improve the
investment climate. Aghbari praised previous U.S. support,
citing recent trainings in intellectual property rights law
(offered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization and
funded by MEPI) for Yemeni judges as a model of practical
assistance. He welcomed the CLDP offer, and immediately
suggested that they bring 10 new commercial court judges to
Morocco to learn from their peers. Aghbari stated bluntly
that the Ministry knows what it needs to do, and does not
require additional studies and assessments. What it lacks is
resources and partners who are willing to help Yemen meet
those needs.

SANAA 00002546 002.2 OF 002

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ABA Caught in Political Web
---------------------------

7. Ambassador then raised several issues related to the
MEPI-funded legal reform program of the ABA/CEELI. The
program focuses on working with reform-minded members of the
legal community and in helping the SJC fulfill its new role.
Ambassador explained that the local ABA representative,
Australian Robin Perry, ran afoul of the bar associations who
are now calling for him to be deported. The groups charged
that the ABA was seeking to undermine Yemeni law, and implied
that it was a front for intelligence gathering, and used the
war in Lebanon to shame Yemenis who chose to work with the
organization.

8. Aghbari acknowledged that he was facing serious problems
over the ABA issue. He appeared sympathetic to Perry after
having met with him several months earlier, and claimed to
have intervened on his behalf with the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. In response, said Aghbari, the bar associations
accused him of "taking the Americans' side." According to
MOJ, the core issue was competition between the local and
national bar associations and not U.S.-Yemeni relations.
Nevertheless, Aghbari implied that one month before elections
there were few ROYG officials willing to intervene on ABA's
behalf. MOJ suggested a future meeting to broker an
agreement between the parties. Once the ABA's terms of
reference are clarified, said MOJ, "we have no problem with
them continuing their work."

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MOJ an Ally for Reform
----------------------

9. COMMENT: MOJ al-Aghbari has clearly established himself
among the leaders in the new reform-minded Cabinet, with
strong support from the President. It has been his role to
midwife the creation of a newly independent judiciary, and to
date he appears to being doing an admirable job. Unlike his
predecessors, Aghbari is himself a judge and therefore more
willing to cede power from the executive to the judiciary.
Many of the reforms under his watch are critical to Yemen's
status with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and will
likely be highlighted in any ROYG proposal for readmission to
the MCC Threshold Program. Supporting reform in Yemen's
legal system remains a tricky prospect, as demonstrated by
the problems encountered by the ABA, but Aghbari's positive
disposition towards U.S. assistance paves the way for future
cooperation. END COMMENT.
Krajeski

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