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Project Bosnia: Legal Initiative

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Project Prospectus

Members of Project Bosnia give special thanks to the American Bar Association's Central East European Law Initiative ("CEELI") office in Sarajevo for their continuous support of our project. It is in large part to their efforts that Project Bosnia has been able to make such impressive progress toward accomplishing our goal of connecting courts in Bosnia via the Internet.

Dean Henry H. Perritt, Jr., head of Project Bosnia, would like to thank some of the individuals and organizations whose support have contributed to the success of this project:

- Illinois Institute of Technology, President Lewis Collens

- IIT, Vice-President Hassan Nagib

- Former Villanova Law School Dean Steven Frankino

- Current Villanova Dean Mark Sargent - United States Information Agency (USIA)

- OSCE/Banja Luka Regional Center

- United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

- Soros Foundation

- ABA/CEELI

- Sun Microsystems

 

By: Cindy Baker and Harry "IV" Ashton

A new advertisement by a major telecommunications company compares the Internet to Utopia. Through the Internet, the ad claims racial, ethnic, gender and physical differences are obliterated. It doesn't matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, male, female, deaf, blind or paralyzed—those twisted fiber optic cables can't see and don't care.

The ad may overstate the power of the World Wide Web, but the information superhighway can cut across boundaries and barriers. In an increasingly interdependent world, instant access to information can make the difference between security or peril, growth or collapse, war or peace, and understanding rather than ignorance. The Internet then becomes a positive instrument bringing disparate people together for a common good.

The common good in this case is helping to restore peace to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country torn apart by ethnic tensions and nationalism emanating from the break up of the former Yugoslavia. Seem lofty and impossible? Some law school faculty, administrators and students at Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Villanova University School of Law don't think so. For more than two years, a student volunteer group led by Chicago-Kent Dean Henry H. Perritt, Jr. and recent Villanova graduate April Major, have been utilizing Internet technology to help restore a rule of law in Bosnia..

During the war, Bosnia became a land where neighbors suddenly became enemies; where bullets and mortar shells exploded without warning on residential streets; where for days there was no electricity, heat or water; where going to the communal marketplace sometimes ended in death; and where entire families lived in one room. For Bosnian attorneys, judges, professors and law students, the elements of a legal infrastructure which we so often take for granted have been shattered by war. There, members of the legal community were forced to reform even the most elementary of legal tasks in an environment where law books, law libraries, legal records or legal institutions are merely fading memories.

While the Dayton Accords and an international military presence have ended the fighting in the region, accomplishing a strong and lasting peace may prove impossible unless a rule of law is restored successfully. To that end, Project Bosnia is waging a new battle. In an effort to rebuild what was lost in the brutal conflict, citizens from Bosnia and Herzegovina are working vigorously with student-volunteers from the United States to reshape the institutions that will anchor a civil society. Not only are the people of the former Yugoslavia digging out from the horrors of this conflict, they are constructing their political, legal and economic systems from scratch.

With the destruction of the old totalitarian order, a democratic, united Europe committed to market competition is emerging. What happens in Bosnia is key to how the new world order will define itself.

Dean Perritt believes that Internet technologies, developed over the years by young people at many institutions of higher learning and honed by faculty, staff and students, can help rebuild Bosnian law libraries, law schools, the court system and legislative processes. In other words, a virtual legal infrastructure will replace mortar, bricks and paper. From that belief Project Bosnia was born—a student-run, grass roots initiative of global proportions.

"The free flow of information breeds truth and affects change," said Dean Perritt, one of the country's leading scholars on the synergy between information technology and the law. "Before citizens can bring about change, they must be heard. Affording a voice expedites the healing process. Information technology can amplify that voice."

Dean Perritt served as Deputy Undersecretary of Labor and was a member of the White House staff during the Ford Administration. He also served as a presidential adviser on Internet policy in the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Six years ago, he developed a plan for putting government agencies on the information superhighway for the Clinton transition team.

Just how can the Internet play a role in restoring the rule of law? According to Project Bosnia co-founder Stuart Ingis, the Internet is the ideal tool for implementing change in Bosnia. "The idea behind Project Bosnia is that to have a civil society, the legal community must be able to exchange information. Bosnia needs to rebuild its infrastructure and the Internet is the most efficient and inexpensive way to do that," says Mr. Ingis, who traveled to Central and Eastern Europe three times while a law student at Villanova.

For a number of years, the Internet has been revolutionizing the legal system in the United States. Most current federal appellate court opinions are available to anyone through the World Wide Web. More state courts are putting their decisions online. Federal and state agencies use the Web and e-mail to broaden citizen participation in rulemaking.

Law students and professors exchange views and publish their work through hundreds of email exchanges, news groups and Web-based discussion forums. Lawyers and clients even go online to settle disputes.

"Information technology already enhances our legal institutions," said Dean Perritt. "Imagine the impact of the Internet in Bosnia, where the traditional ways of obtaining information like law libraries and printing presses no longer exist."

In addition to a law library that houses thousands of paper books or a courthouse that contains legal records and court decisions, a single desktop computer linked to another computer anywhere in the world can access pertinent legal information essential to professionals, government officials and judges. Yet, aside from connecting to the outside world, the Internet can also link members of the Bosnian legal community to each other. Thus, by providing immediate access to their own judicial opinions and newly drafted laws, Bosnians will be able to quickly rebuild their legal system.

"An Internet-based infrastructure is crucial to the kind of information exchange that is the life blood of day-to-day operations of parliamentary institutions, courts, Ombudsmen (the international group charged with monitoring human rights violations) and the bar within Bosnia," said Dean Perritt.

Eventually, the Internet will play a role in dispute resolution. With thousands of people dislocated by the war and with real property and boundaries in dispute, the World Wide Web becomes a global courtroom, covering larger distances and broader constituencies. For instance, Project Bosnia, through a $50,000 grant from the Soros Foundation, has equipped the justices of the Federation Constitutional Court with Pentium computers and linked them to a server in Sarajevo. The nine judges, three of whom live in other countries, can now communicate with each other, make decisions and post them without leaving their homelands.

"Dispute resolution software developed as part of Project Bosnia can be adapted to the needs of the Constitutional Court to improve its information flow, thus speeding up its operation," said April Major, Director of the Center for Information Law and Policy (CILP). "The justices can manage their docket much more easily via the Internet."

With Project Bosnia evolving daily, its reach is not stopping at the borders of the Federation. The project has spawned the Central and Eastern European Civic Institution Locator (CEECIL) and the Eastern and Central European Legal Network (ECEULnet). CEECIL and ECEULnet use the power of the Internet to connect constitutional courts, human rights institutions like the Ombudsmen, the press and other civic institutions in the region. Adapting CILP's Web-based software, the constitutional courts of Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Bosnia and Macedonia can manage cases electronically, communicate with each other, draft opinions and make them immediately available to the rest of the world.

To begin implementation of these new initiatives, a Project Bosnia team returned to Central and Eastern Europe in 1996. They met with constitutional court justices from Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to advise them about connecting their courts to the Web and about Internet policy in general. The team also agreed to adapt a database consisting of volumes of Russian laws for Internet access.

"Development of constitutional law is crucial to establishing a rule of law. Its formation works only if people know how cases have been decided in the past," said Dean Perritt. "The courts throughout the region face similar problems applying constitutional concepts because they come from civil law traditions where one-party rule dominated. They need to share their decisions with each other and the world and draw from the Common Law tradition of the West. That's what we are doing, helping these countries get their courts and other legal institutions up and connected using the Internet."

Moreover, notwithstanding its legal applications, the Internet can play an integral role in supporting a free and unfettered national press in both Bosnian entities. By tearing down barriers which restrict the free flow of information to and from the country, the Internet will function as a global newsroom, allowing international communities to maintain a watchful eye over Bosnia while simultaneously providing its citizens with up-to-date accurate media reports. Thus, with the world watching, Bosnians can begin rebuilding their infrastructure.

The role of the Internet in Bosnia today, however, is even more significant given the hostilities that still simmer beneath the surface there. While fighting in the region has quieted, the restoration of peace initiated by the Dayton Accords is contingent upon the availability of, and access to, unbiased information within the region.

For instance, efforts to implement the Dayton Peace Accords in Republika Srpska, the Serbian-controlled half of Bosnia, have been frustrated by opponents of peace who are using their influence over the media to broadcast messages of intolerance and anti-Western sentiment. In reaction to this problem, Project Bosnia has launched a new initiative.

In attempt to circumvent the problems in Republika Srpska ("RS"), Dean Perritt and a group of Chicago-Kent student volunteers traveled to the RS city of Banja Luka the fall of 1997 to lay the groundwork for the installation of the region's first Internet server. "We are pleased with the support we have received from the United States Information Agency and from other agencies of the United States Government in developing the concepts for the server in Banja Luka and in arranging transportation for the hardware to the region," comments Suzanne Price, a second year law student and Project Director at Chicago-Kent.

Backed with the support of the United States Information Agency and with the generous donation of a $25,000 Internet server by Sun Microsystems, Project members are cautiously optimistic. "Everyone involved is aware of dangers inherent to this type of mission," says Alex Rozman, one of the Project's student directors. "There are certainly factions of people in Bosnia who would like to see our project fail." With this in mind, project participants are working closely with supporters in Bosnia to ensure that the project does not become a victim of the very oppression that it seeks to remedy.

With the global community committed to peace, however, supporters of Project Bosnia are confident that new information channels such as the Internet will help support the Dayton Accords. "Our latest efforts in Rebuplika Srpska represent an extraordinary opportunity to end-run traditional channels of communication by utilizing the Internet to provide a forum to disseminate free and independent information," states Will Sadler, Executive Director of Chicago-Kent's Center for Law and Computers.

"An ombudsman who discovers human rights violations can use the Internet to exert pressure on the abuser by mobilizing world opinion," adds IV Ashton, fellow Project director from Chicago-Kent. "Simply by posting her findings on the Web, or mailing her findings to our law school so that we can post them, would alert the global community."

STUDENTS MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Project Bosnia began with the donation of a laptop computer and modem to three law school faculty members from the University of Sarajevo who visited the Villanova's School of Law in January of 1996. After a demonstration of the school's computer and information technology capabilities, the Bosnian law professors realized the potential importance technology could have in rebuilding their country.

In the two years since the initial visit from the Bosnian legal scholars, student involvement has grown tremendously. Project directors from both schools have focused their collective energies to develop and maintain a strategic plan to ensure the success of Project Bosnia. Toward that end, students have created a Bosnia Home page on the World Wide Web (http://www.project-bosnia.org) to broadcast the Project's accomplishments. This links Web browsers to a universe of information regarding the country and its history, and tells the story of Project Bosnia.

Moreover, student volunteers continuously work with administrators and faculty from their respective schools to coordinate various support programs. Students are currently canvassing local businesses and area law firms seeking either monetary contributions or donations of personal computers which are necessary for Bosnian access to the Internet.

"It is impressive that such small group of people can effectuate substantial change," comments third-year law student IV Ashton. "When we joined Project Bosnia, we were just a group of students who wanted to lend a helping hand. Now, through a lot of hard work and dedication, we are helping acountry ravaged by war rebuild its infrastructure. Helping bring stability to Bosnia via the Internet only reinforces the commitment that we made at the beginning our legal education to utilize our abilities as future attorneys to assist others."

It is this type of student enthusiasm that Dean Perritt credits for motivating him. He said his close association with students is an unusually good example of the mentor/protege relationship and has become a productive combination. "I'm not quite the same as I was at 25, not as bold. Students say `come on, let's call this person, let's contact that organization,'" commented Perritt.

Dean Perritt graduated from MIT in 1966 with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering and received a Master in Science degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management in 1970. In 1975, he received a law degree from Georgetown.

"I think Dean Perritt's experience lends credibility," comments Alex Rozman, fellow Project Director and second year student. "His grasp of technology allows us to be more creative as we apply that technology to

the law. He has worked in Washington and understands how public policy is made, how the legislative process works and how senior policy makers operate. He has taught us that if you don't understand how institutions interact, you marginalize your efforts."

With these dynamics, Project Bosnia has successfully created a working environment that is atypical for both students and administrators. "The project has changed me in that I have never worked with students in this way before," said Dean Perritt. "The intensity is great. When you spend so much time together inevitably you get to know students in a much more personal way. We interact as equals and colleagues. We have come to trust each other and we have formed lasting friendships."

Indeed one thing is for certain, no grade can measure what students and the law school communities are learning from Project Bosnia. On a technological level, both schools are committed to exploring various methods to advance their leadership in Internet research and development as it applies to legal systems. In fact, as technicians at CILP test theories pertaining to informational access and exchange, they are discovering different ways to apply their results to Internet technology everywhere.

“The project enhances and expands our school’s mission. It puts a practical face on the legal learning that takes place in our classrooms,” Dean Perritt. “It also allows students to observe first hand how research and policy-making carried out within our institution can affect the lives of people thousands of miles away.”

For students, Project Bosnia is teaching personal as well as legal lessons. Students are finding that they can call people anywhere in the world -- parliament members or constitutional court justices -- and people will listen if what they have to say is worthwhile. “Its amazing, we were sitting at my kitchen table with a lap top setting up meetings in Moscow with the Russian Minister of Science, Technology and Forecasting. Looking back, its hard to believe that we were just a couple law students,” said Michael Barton, one of Project Bosnia’s original team members. “The only boundaries are the ones in our minds.”

WHY CHICAGO-KENT?

Why has the Chicago-Kent College of Law taken on the challenge of helping a former Yugoslav republic recover from the ravages of war and establish a civil society?

Technology, to name one reason. Chicago-Kent is uniquely positioned to guide the adaptation of American Internet experience to Bosnian needs. Aside from Dean Perritt’s scholarship and contributions to policy development in this area of the law, the Center for Information Law and Policy (CILP), a joint venture of Chicago-Kent and Villanova, developed and operates one of the premier Web sites in the world for legal information (http://www.cilp.org). Its Federal Web Locator is the most complete single point of entry for Internet access to the 850 federal agencies, receiving 25,000 “hits” a week from around the world. CILP publishes most Supreme Court and Federal Court of Appeals opinions on the Internet on a daily basis. The Federal Court Locator has become a major alternative to proprietary systems like LEXIS and WESTLAW.

Moreover, CILP is the electronic home for the Virtual Magistrate Project, an online dispute resolution center. Computer technicians at CILP wrote the software that allows people to process disputes with an independent arbitrator using the Internet. The Bosnian Federation Constitutional court will use a version of this software retooled by CILP to fit a variety of legal needs.

Additionally, drawing from the university’s strength in transnational and comparative law, Chicago-Kent’s Global Law and Policy Initiative (GLAPI) provides a neutral forum for dialogue among academics, policy makers and business leaders about critical issues of global policy.

GLAPI recognizes that the academic, diplomatic and business communities are critical to policy development in the converging areas of foreign policy, business policy and international law. The Initiative links key players from all three communities through conferences, symposia, publications and Internet exchanges. GLAPI also furnishes students at the law school with a unique chance to participate in clinical and externship opportunities.

In the fall of 1997, GLAPI commenced its inaugural year by announcing a series of formal presentations, each providing in-depth analysis of an issue of importance to international relations and law and each featuring an outstanding speaker or panel of speakers. In September, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the historic Dayton Accords, delivered an address on Collective Security as a Foundation for Trade: NATO, the U.N., and Peace Enforcement in Bosnia and Cyprus.

There is also the long-standing involvement of the American Bar Association’s Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (CEELI). For a number of years now, several faculty members at Chicago-Kent have aided countries emerging from communism establish their own legal systems by helping draft federal constitutions, enhance legal education through exchange programs and advise fledgling nations on legal processes. As one example, Bartram Brown, a professor of International Human Rights, spent the 1995-96 academic year at the Hague, where he served as a special consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Finally, in December 1997, Charles Rudnick joined the administration at Chicago-Kent College of Law as Assistant Dean for International Law and Policy Development, and as a policy fellow. Previously, Mr. Rudnick served for two years as the ABA CEELI representative in Sarajevo.

This natural progression Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, to mesh its technological know-how with their international outreach capabilities.

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The Rule of Law Through Technology Initiative
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Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology