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Source: USAID West Bank & Gaza
2 December 2004

A new project will bolster Palestinian legal sector

Ramallah-The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Wednesday the launch of a $4 million project aimed at strengthening judicial and legal reform and bolstering public trust in the Palestinian legal system.

With offices in Ramallah and Gaza City, the three-year project, dubbed Supporting Rule of Law Reform, will work with law faculties, civil society organizations, and professional groups across the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. consulting firm Chemonics International is implementing the project.

"USAID is committed to strengthening the rule of law in the West Bank and Gaza," said Rasem Kamal, USAID's Rule of Law specialist. "This project - to improve Palestinian legal education and to encourage active participation of civil society in rule of law reform - was conceived in coordination with officials of the Palestinian judicial system. "

Mr. Kamal also noted that USAID has recently awarded a grant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to implement, along with the Bir Zeit University Institute of Law, a judicial training project for Palestinian judges and public prosecutors.

"With the rapidly evolving political situation in Palestine, the coming elections, and international support for statehood within the coming few years, efforts to improve the Palestinian legal system are all the more pressing," said Mustafa Mari, a Palestinian lawyer who leads the project. "To make sure activities are grounded in current realities, we will work hand-in-hand with the Palestinian legal community on two fronts."

The first component seeks to strengthen the law faculties at four leading universities-Al-Quds, An Najah, Al Azhar, and Bir Zeit-by incorporating legal research into the curriculum, creating student associations, training faculty, and boosting the role of the academic community in the legal sector.

"We need to make students familiar with rights and freedoms, give them an overview of existing mechanisms, and engage them in a planning process that focuses on those skills and values," said Ali Khashan, an attorney and educator managing initiatives with Palestinian law schools.

The universities will also receive grants to fund technology acquisitions and expand access to resources.

The second component will work to equip lawyers and civil society groups with the knowledge and tools needed to affect legal and judicial reform-for example, through coalition building, public awareness campaigns, and continuing legal education.

Khalil Ansara, a Palestinian attorney, is managing this effort in cooperation with the Palestinian Bar Association, which will play an instrumental role in educating the public about the rule of law.

A meeting in January 2005 will bring together all major participants-from universities to the Bar Association to project staff-to shape a common vision and build consensus on priorities.

"This will be an opportunity to cement commitment from all key players so we can forge ahead with the work at hand," said Dr. Mari.

USAID has spent more than $1.3 billion in the West Bank and Gaza to combat poverty, create jobs, improve education, build roads and water systems, construct and equip medical clinics, and promote good governance.

USAID has supported Rule of Law projects in the West Bank and Gaza since 1999.

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