Why was the Rule of Law Platform created ?
The Rule of Law Platform was launched in response to the need to further the definition of its interests and priorities of the Rule of Law Initiative. Under the auspices of the Rule of Law Initiative, the Rule of Law Platform acts as a coordination mechanism to facilitate policy dialogue and promote the measures needed to encourage and support legal and governance reforms in each of the Central Asian countries.
The Rule of Law Platform has the ambitious goal to become a “strong and efficient mechanism to ensure proper link between policy dialogue and project implementation, as well as ownership by the various stakeholders” (Central Asia DCI Indicative Programme (2011-2013), April 2010).
The project’s launch demonstrates that the EU bases its engagement in the region on core European values of respect for human rights and the Rule of Law.
How is the Rule of Law Platform funded ?
The Rule of Law Initiative is funded by the Development Cooperation Instrument (Central Asia Indicative Programme, 2007-2013), which regional cooperation priority for assistance is comprised of three sectors. One of them is dedicated to “Rule of Law, border management, customs, and the fight against organised crime” and is funded with 10 million EUR, 2 million of which are allocated to the Rule of Law Platform.
What are the most severe shortcomings in the rule of law in Central Asia?
The judicial systems of Central Asian countries continue to face many challenges, which vary in degree depending on the country. These include lack of technical skills and financial resources, lack of independence of the judiciary, insufficient specialisation of judges and attorneys, corruption, insufficient access to justice for the most vulnerable parts of the population especially, inappropriate training and equipment of judges and court staff, inefficiencies in court management and allocation of cases, and overloaded judges, resulting in lack of public confidence in the court system. Fair and effective courts, operating with a view to ensuring quality, form part of the basis of democracy and rule of law, and play a critical role in fostering development and investment. Also, substantive and procedural law has undergone substantial changes in the region over the last years, sometimes several times in a few years, and judicial and legal professionals need time to adapt. There is goodwill to learn best European practices, but old habits die hard.
What are the main challenges in cooperation with Central Asian governments and authorities?
A lot of efforts have been made to enable the Rule of Law Platform to start operating in the five countries, mostly due to administrative issues and the unusual regional format of the Platform. As successful dialogue has been engaged with clear messages and proposals for cooperation, the platform is ready to activate working groups of Central Asian and European experts and to deploy activities for productive exchanges and cooperation in all five countries.
We feel there is now a better level of understanding. The authorities of the Central Asian countries are asking for support: for instance to provide training and behavioral guidelines to enforcement personnel to cut the number of infringements to the law at the stage of pre-trial proceedings. If the Platform proposals and the quality of expertise provided respond to the needs, the Platform will contribute to building trust and to advance the Rule of Law.
Is a role foreseen for civil societies from Central Asia in the activities of the Rule of Law Platform?
Meetings between representatives of NGOs, defence lawyers/members of Bar Chambers and the Rule of Law Platform are taking place regularly. Independent lawyers have been invited to the regional seminars on Administrative Law, Judicial Capacity and on the Right to a Fair Trial. They have been asked to deliver presentations and participate in the working groups that have issued recommendations endorsed already by the Ministers of Justice of the countries of Central Asia and the European Union. These include benchmarks for legal and judicial reform by the countries of Central Asia over the next two years (the lifetime of the Platform) and beyond.
A large number of training events will be organised in Central Asia by the platform in 2013-14. Depending on the objectives and expected audience for particular events, representatives of civil society could play a central role as target groups and possibly as trainers. National seminars for dialogue will also be organised . Civil society is expected to play a crucial role in these forums.
Alongside rule of law, the EU also lists democracy, good governance and human rights among its ‘values’ priorities. Will this link also feature in the Rule of Law Platform’s agenda?
With its ambitious objectives, these values are at the core of the Platform’s philosophy and activities. Moreover, the Platform can associate institutions such as the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to provide specialised legal expertise in these areas. Democracy, good governance and human rights are transversal issues we cross constantly in our work: the platform’s common agenda concentrates on administrative law and administrative procedure, criminal law and criminal procedure and judicial reform. Professional networks with a high level of expertise in these values have been associated to the Platform’s activities: the International Union of Judicial Officers, the European Judicial Training Network, Universities Western Bars and the Consultative Council of European Bars, which regroup the 27 democratic traditions of the Member States! Besides, one of the tasks of the platform is to create links between the EU and Central Asia, involving academia, NGOs and lawyers to consolidate already existing networks such as the League of Central Asian Lawyers.
The Platform will remain attentive to the needs of the civil societies and its other partners in Central Asia and will have a flexible approach to adapt its offer of activities and services.