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International Rule of Law
International Rule of Law Dialogue

When you started doing international work, what were some of the assumptions you had about the American legal system that you took for granted when you went to other countries? What do people in general in the US take for granted about their rights and freedoms?

Ambassador George Bruno:
I think we tend to take due process, Equal protection and all the freedoms outline in our Bill of Rights largely for granted. I know that whenever I return from a trip to a foreign country I am grateful for the freedoms we enjoy.

Justice Joseph Nadeau:
I took for granted the absence of corruption in the judiciary, the dedication of judges to the system, and the level of judicial independence here.

I think we in the US take for granted our right to vigorous, competent representation by counsel; paid for by the state if we cannot afford it. We also take for granted freedom of the press and of speech.

I think we in New Hampshire take for granted our judiciary which is one of the most professional and nationally respected judiciaries in the country.

Bjorn Lange:
Probably like most Americans, when I first began participating in the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium, I took it for granted that the rest of the world would emulate our legal system if they could, particuliarly our rights to personal safety, individual privacy, private property and freedom from arbitrary government action. Now the American political and legal systems seem to have become less enviable. 
 
Michael Th. Johnson: 
Eleven years ago I first began work with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia reviewing national war crimes indictments for sufficiency under international standards.  At the time, I assumed that such standards were both clearly articulated and uniformly reflected in the American legal system in which I had been trained. I also thought that it was the best system in the world. 

When I first went to Rwanda in 1998, I assumed that our sense of moral obligation and professional conduct as lawyers was reflected also in the lawyers practicing in Rwanda’s judicial system.  I misunderstood the unique cultural, political, and economic influences that motivate and sustain legal practitioners in different countries.  I did not even clearly realize the influence that such factors had on my own views regarding my obligations to support the rule of law in the broader context.
 
I also took for granted our confidence in American justice sector institutions, not fully appreciating that such confidence was the product of several centuries of relative peace and stability.  It was second nature to me that a free, if not terribly diligent press, and a vigorous defense bar ensured transparency and accountability in our system of justice.   I simply assumed that the criminal justice process was a conflict between an individual and his/her government during which the entire burden fell upon the government to publicly justify its actions at each step of that process. 

It is quite obvious that the people of the United States assume that the government will be held accountable for its actions and will therefore act in a responsible way in enforcing its laws. We also take for granted that we are free to worry about our own individual interests because the system will protect our rights to do so.  We assume that the government will be responsible to the Constitution and act fairly in the administration of our laws enacted under it. We as Americans assume that we can trust our government.  These assumptions have been deeply tested in these last few years. 

Maurice Geiger
By the time I started working on international projects I had around 30 years of experience in US Justice systems. By that time I recognized that in the US the law was basically a "playground for the rich and a burial ground for the poor". I did not take that recognition to other countries. I found that in most other nations the difference as to the law, is not between the rich and the poor but between those who are connected in government and those who are not.

I think that people in the US take three fundlemental things for granted about ROL.
  1. The concept of judicial independence
  2. The adversary process
  3. The right to a jury trial
In most legal systems in the world these are not present.

 Robert Stein:
I spent a year in The Hague, Holland at the International Criminal Tribune in the former Yugoslavia defending a Bosnian Croat named Dario Kordic.
 
I took for granted the people had respect for the rule of law, and in particular the role of lawyers in the process.  I was sadly mistaken.  While given lip service to the role of defense counsel, the reality is the Court had very little use for or understanding of about what defense counsel was to do, about the rights that we were trying to articulate, and had tremendous antipathy towards Americans, generally.  We were told on a regular basis that our system was unintelligible to the average European (in particular, our jury system), that professional judges were far better than American juries, and that aggressive defense lawyers were neither welcome nor accepted.  For example,we were told that the place for challenge relative to a witnesses credibility was with prosecution and not the defense.  
 

Do you have a question or comment on this subject?
Please send to Dan Wise

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