The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) hosted a presentation of Strengthening the Case – Good Criminal Justice Practices to Counter Terrorism, the Global Center’s report that takes stock of criminal justice measures to counter terrorism in Africa, the Middle East, South, and Southeast Asia. The event, jointly organized by the ABA ROLI and the Global Center, brought together a diverse group of criminal justice and policy experts, program managers, and practitioners from academia, civil society, foreign embassies, and the U.S. government. The presentation was followed by a roundtable discussion led by the Honorable James Baker, Chief Judge (ret.) U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security.
Strengthening the Case was funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism to support the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) Criminal Justice and Rule of Law Working Group. Using a flexible research framework derived from the GCTF Rabat Memorandum, it highlights a number of examples of focus country efforts to implement rule of law-based criminal justice practices to counter terrorism. At the same time, it notes a wide range of fundamental structural, organizational, and operational criminal justice challenges that undermine and at times preclude, the implementation of these practices.
In their presentation, the Global Center noted that rule of law-based criminal justice responses to terrorism not only deter terrorism-related violence, but are also essential for countering violent extremism. By safeguarding human, civil, and political rights, providing equal protection under the law, and holding themselves accountable to the law, national criminal justice actors can play a central role in undermining drivers of violence. The authors highlighted three key take-aways from the report. First, that technical training and traditional capacity building on counterterrorism practices are not substitutes for criminal justice reform and institutional development. In many jurisdictions, counterterrorism-related criminal justice capacities may be more effectively supported through core justice and security sector development assistance, rather than specialized counterterrorism programming. The authors also cautioned that weak criminal justice capacity to counter terrorism is usually not simply a function of limited training and resources. These challenges are frequently political as well. Political control over the criminal justice system render it beholden to political elites and not the law, and alternative avenues of rule of law assistance may serve in addressing counterterrorism-related criminal justice practices indirectly. Finally, the authors suggested that regional programming, while important in other respects, is not ideal for strengthening national criminal justice capacities. Support for rule of law-based criminal justice practices will have a greater potential for impact if designed in partnership with national stakeholders based on their specific needs and aligned with local political and organizational context.