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A recent University of La Verne symposium could have global impact
and help shape protocols for states in post-conflict turmoil.
A three-day La Verne College of Law symposium to come up with guidelines for intervening in fragile states began on the ground in Afghanistan.
It was in Kabul that Bruce MacDonald, now a retired Admiral and former Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy, and Stephen G. Larson, now a retired federal judge, chatted over hamburgers, talking about how decision-makers with the best intentions ended up making the same mistakes. And, they talked of how various entities that could be more effective working together often are disconnected from one another.
Those conversations were the genesis of an ambitious project for which the University of La Verne would be ground zero. The two men soon invited Robert O’Brien, Co-Chair of the U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan and La Verne law professor and associate dean John Linarelli, to take part in the discussions.
Their idea: Bring together key leaders from the government, academia, the community, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all over the world to establish protocols for states emerging from post-conflict turmoil. It would not be enough to bring these minds together, despite the impressive credentials of the participants. It was imperative that a blueprint – or the beginning of one – would emerge.
That was the thought behind a symposium called “Afghanistan & State Building” that would take a year to plan and that was held in April at La Verne. MacDonald, Larson, O’Brien and Linarelli were the symposium co-chairs.
“This is really designed to say, ‘Look at the Congo. Look at Afghanistan. Look at Iraq. What are the common characteristics, the good and the not so good that we learned from studying these interventions that would help decision-makers avoid making the same mistakes in the future?” MacDonald said.
The La Verne College of Law presented the symposium, which featured eight discussion panels, keynote speeches from distinguished guests, and a hands-on workshop in which participants tried to distill what they had learned and heard into a set of protocols. The keynote speakers were the Hon. Pierre-Richard Prosper, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, and Cherif Bassiouni, Distinguished Research Professor of Law, DePaul University School of Law and President Emeritus of the International Rights Institute.
“An important part of our mission has always been to try to connect the theoretical with the practical,” said Allen K. Easley, Dean of La Verne College of Law. “We have a reputation for putting lawyers out in the community who understand how to put the law to work. So for me, what’s really important about this is that we are doing exactly the same thing, but on a global stage.”
If one thing was clear from the symposium it was this was simply the beginning of a collaborative effort that would continue on for months or even years. The symposium included the perspectives of Afghans, including a group of visiting scholars at the University of Washington Law School.
“The scope is vast. We have taken on a very ambitious endeavor,” said La Verne president Stephen Morgan. “We probably can’t accomplish it all but we can put in place the foundation, the building blocks, on which others can build.”
O’Brien said it was rare to find such a symposium on the West Coast.
“It’s particularly gratifying to see a smaller, liberal arts type university step up onto the international stage,” he said.
“Certainly, La Verne has plenty of competitors in Southern California – UCLA, USC – and yet I’m not aware of any of those schools or some of the larger schools in the area putting on a program that is as ambitious as this symposium being sponsored by La Verne. I think it says a lot about the ambitions of the school. It says a lot about the generosity of the school’s Board of Trustees and president that they have been willing to co-fund the symposium and I think it bodes well for the students.”
Many La Verne law students attended the symposium and praised the university for sponsoring it.
Malalai Farooqi, 24, a first-year law student and Afghan-American, was thrilled to be attending the symposium.
“I think it’s really important for me to be here,” she said. “They were talking about the next generation and this a generational problem and I’m the next generation and I feel like if I don’t care, who will?”
The interdisciplinary conference was held with the purpose of trying to make a difference in Washington in terms of policy guidance, Linarelli said.
“Rule of law is probably one of the most important things,” Linarelli said. “There isn’t a successful country on the planet without a rule of law.”
Linarelli said that, on the third day of the symposium, participants started organizing for drafting of protocols. ULV is going to play a leadership role in that effort, he said.
“This is going to connect La Verne directly to Washington, to the United Nations, to the world,” he said.
Participants talked about how the symposium helped cement relationships and bridge gaps between agencies or groups. Panel discussions brought together experts talking about military intervention, phases and priorities of reconstruction, transitional justice, human rights, and other topics.
“Far too often, academics talk with academics, the military talks with the military. People feel comfortable with people who have a similar perspective. What this symposium has done is challenge those perspectives,” Larson said.
U.S. Air Force Major Jeremy Marsh, of The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, VA, used a childrearing analogy to discuss emerging states during the military intervention discussion.
“We have in the international community a great many infant states from the standpoint of democracy and rule of law,” he said. “The question of this symposium, based on its title, is how can we help march them into successful adulthood?”
Speakers repeatedly talked about how change cannot take place quickly and must come over time. It also must be done with respect to a country’s culture. Americans need to be more humble when intervening and often think they have all the answers, but need to approach these situations with a degree of humility.
Much of the discussion was focused on the rule of law, but suppression of women was a frequent topic.
“The rights of women are still a significant issue in Afghanistan,” said Marisa S. Cianciarulo, Associate Professor of Law at Chapman University Law School. “If this state or any other state is going to succeed, the women of that state need to insist on their recognition as full human beings equal to men.”
Afghans Mohammad Ayub Yusufzai and Lutforahman Saeed, visiting scholars at the University of Washington School of Law, spoke about the role of women in Afghanistan during the human rights panel discussion.
Yusufzai said that if women are to be empowered, they will need to be educated. They also need to be empowered economically so they don’t have to rely on men, he said.
Sending messages about empowering women and about democracy can be difficult in a country that is mostly illiterate, Saeed said. But, he said, there are ways to disseminate information.
“People don’t read the newspaper. They don’t read books because they can’t read. There is not TV, no radio, but five times a day they go to mosque,” he said.