Initiated in 2014, the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN) Program is a three-year regional program implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This program seeks to strengthen the rule of law in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, by building mechanisms for collaboration and sharing best practices, tools, and knowledge among the region’s bar associations and justice-sector civil society organizations (CSOs). The program achieves this goal through three main objectives: 1) creating a demand-driven network; 2) investing stakeholders with opportunities to participate and mold the network; and 3) building sustainable mechanisms to ensure the network functions beyond this program.
The Network was formed during a kick-off conference in Lake Ohrid in May, 2014, where approximately forty people, including officers from chambers of advocates, private advocates, journalists and CSO representatives, from the five countries gathered in order to develop a mission and work plan for the regional network. The members identified five critical areas most in need of reform to improve advocacy through the region and organized themselves into the following five working groups: Training and Education, Legal Aid and Ex Officio Defense, Bar Chamber Capacity, Criminal Law and Media and Public Awareness.
BRRLN working groups then met individually through the fall of 2014 to develop issues and project ideas to address and begin solving some of the region’s problems. The following is a summary of the project proposals each group developed.
In March 2015, ABA ROLI BRRLN organized a leadership conference in Serbia to foster greater collaboration among the network’s bar chambers. During the conference, CSOs and bar chamber leaders formulated the network’s governing structure and launched the BRRLN website. A virtual network for the BRRLN community, the website is allowing members to exchange ideas, resources and best practices on defense advocacy. Additionally, the Balkan bar association leaders signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding to collaborate in protecting the independence of the legal profession and in developing their institutions’ capacity.
Throughout 2015, we organized several regional peer-to-peer exchanges, fostering discussions on bar association management and development, plea bargaining and the defense of clients in war crimes cases. We also launched a pilot mentorship program between the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates and the Minnesota State Bar Association on issues of organizational structure, management and member services, which we plan to replicate for other members of the network.
In addition, we organized a TOT Boot Camp where 26 advocates from the BRRLN countries came together for a five-day curriculum development workshop. The aim of the workshop was to train trainers on article 5 of the European Convention for Human Rights who commited to teach bigger groups in their respective countires. Until this moment over 50 licenced lawyers and trainees learnt the substance of article 5 of the Convention through this program.
In 2016, our activities are consisted of Networks’ sustainability, including completing its registration process as an independent, local entity in one of the program countries and develop its capacity to raise funds from government and private donors in Europe.
At the beggining of this year, BRRLN project introduced a new e-learning platform available on our website. The platform consists of a series of on-line presentations and lectures for legal professionals living in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. In addition, the Sterring Committee of the Network had a meeting where they disscused the future of the network and its formal registration. It is envisaged the Netowrk to be registered in March.
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