The Public International Law & Policy Group
The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) is a nonprofit, global pro bono law firm providing free assistance to developing states in conflict and post-conflict situations. Working with high-level actors, it aims to make long-term changes and build lasting peace. We have worked with PILPG for more than a decade, providing advice and analysis for conflict zones all over the world. The work focuses on technical legal questions related to international and comparative law where PILPG does not have the resources or professional background required. In 2017, 72 lawyers and legal staff from 18 offices worked on matters with PILPG.
We recently conducted significant research on witness protection in conflict zones to support the development of this important process in Iraq. Working with local partners in Iraq, PILPG is focused on ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable, but to achieve this, the safety of victims and witnesses in any trial is crucial. Our research has informed PILPG on the legal and practical factors required to make it effective, increasing the likelihood of success by tailoring the program to both Iraq’s federal structure and resource constraints.
“White & Case does an excellent job of pulling in lawyers from around the world and with diverse professional and academic backgrounds. These teams are then incredibly adept at dealing with the multifaceted international elements we need to properly advise our clients,” says Brett Edwards, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at PILPG.
We advised on the legal definition of state terrorism under international law and as to its relevance to state practice to assist in the negotiation and implementation of a political settlement between the parties to the Syrian conflict. These efforts have been further supported with research into the role courts of first instance have played in implementing transitional justice programs in other post-conflict states. In Burma, we looked at the issue of voting rights for disenfranchised citizens, and in Iraq, we informed a new process for filing criminal complaints. In Tanzania, we helped PILPG analyze the disciplinary processes outlined in the country’s Police Force and Auxiliary Services Act to assess compliance with international standards and state best practices.
In each case, outcomes have not been finalized but the process is underway and progress is being made toward the objective of a better, fairer legal system.
The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice
The Vance Center is the international arm of the New York City Bar and works for justice on a global scale. It aims to mobilize a cross-section of the legal profession and works with large international law firms as well as law schools, clearinghouses, bar associations and other pro bono providers in more than 150 countries.
We have worked with the Vance Center for several years. In 2017, we participated in 12 projects, helping more than 50 human rights and environmental organizations in almost 90 countries involving 142 of our lawyers and legal staff in 28 offices. “That level of support is almost unprecedented,” says Leire Larracoechea San Sebastián, Director of Pro Bono Partnerships at the Vance Center. “The Firm’s interest in multijurisdictional work fits well with our goals, and White & Case’s presence in multiple countries with lawyers who can speak the local languages and often have a personal connection to our work makes them extremely responsive and involved.”
New York partner Sabrena Silver serves as co-chair of the Vance Center, head of its Latin American program and a member of the steering committee, providing input and support to multiple efforts including conferences and forums designed to address the challenges of the changing political landscape in the Americas. “As a firm, we’re drawn to complicated, game-changing projects that enhance the global rule
of law,” says Sabrena.
In 2017, we worked on a major project to research how United Nations (UN) Member States have incorporated the responsibility to prevent genocide and protect citizens in times of conflict into domestic legal systems. Our lawyers researched 72 countries, many of them the most challenging to tackle because of lack of access to convenient research tools and the need to deliver the results in English.
The resulting research, which provides the information in a standardized format, has been widely circulated to participants on the ground, who are finding multiple uses for it. It helps to identify gaps when working with national and local governments to update legislation and provides comparative analysis of what other nearby or similar states have achieved. It also supports work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who may be pursuing cases in the local courts. “We see colleagues and partners in different offices regularly reaching out to access this research. Because it’s uniform in nature, it’s easy for them to see what the local situation is and how a country stands in terms of meeting its international obligations,” says Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Programs Director at the Vance Center.
We also undertook initial research for a toolkit for organizations in Colombia that are engaging with and for victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Working with a local law firm, our lawyers provided input into the international law instruments available to victims, looking at what’s required to investigate and prosecute these cases. While the Colombia Peace Accord offers the first step in achieving justice for victims, the real challenge is implementation—working with the most affected communities and the government to meet the practical elements of these obligations. The toolkit is geared toward victims in war zones, helping them to understand their rights under international and local law and what recourse is available. “The work being done by White & Case has a direct impact on strengthening international legal order, but also has a practical use—facilitating access to justice for victims,” says Marie-Claude.
We have also collaborated with the Vance Center to establish the rights of Syrian refugee women, with associates from Paris and Dubai heavily committed to the project.
Helping the UN measure progress toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
In 2015, all Member States of the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) comprising 169 targets. The Member States agreed to report their progress via Voluntary National Reports (VNRs).
SDG 16 calls on states to promote “peaceful and inclusive societies, sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Realizing the challenge of reporting on this goal, the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Promoting Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies, of which White & Case is a founding member, was established.
The Global Alliance asked us to review all VNRs submitted in 2016 and 2017 to determine whether and to what extent countries were reporting on SDG 16. Our resulting statistical and quantitative analysis is helping the UN refine its process for supporting countries doing this voluntary reporting and providing useful analysis to enhance internal reporting and planning.
“Our analysis provides a baseline for the UN Global Alliance that is being used to better assist Member States in producing analytically robust reports,” explains Laura Garr, associate in New York, who has taken the lead on this research, which involved 23 lawyers and legal staff in nine offices.