US Embassy Rule of Law Coordinator’s Office: If you build it, they will come

Posted on | June 15, 2009

The US Department of Justice maintains a Rule of Law Coordinator’s (RoLC) Office at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

In May 2007, the State Department reorganized the Office of the Rule of Law Coordinator (RoLC) in Baghdad to consolidate all civilian and law enforcement efforts to support the rule of law in Iraq, under a single authority. The current RoLC is a senior Department of Justice official who oversees the work of more than 200 personnel under Chief of Mission authority and serves as the primary advisor to the Ambassador on justice-related issues.

The RoLC is responsible for coordinating these efforts with the activities of the Multi-National Force-Iraq to ensure a unified approach to achieving the goals of the U.S. Mission in Iraq. In addition, the RoLC works closely with members of the Iraqi judiciary and the relevant law enforcement institutions (the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice), to ensure collaboration and cooperation in the reconstitution of essential law enforcement and security institutions throughout the Republic of Iraq.

There are a couple of webpages devoted to the Rule of Law – one at the Department of Justice website and one at the US Embassy website, with a useful list of online resources in the form of an eDoc.

The State Department Office of the Inspector General inspected the US Embassy’s Rule of Law Program in 2005.

A former Rule of Law advisor’s closing memo of February 2008 to the US Ambassador was leaked to the media: Miranda memo, 5 .

The definition of the ‘Rule of Law’ as applied by the International Community in Iraq can be somewhat elusive. In common parlance it means that the law is above everyone and that everyone – rulers and the ruled are subject to the law. The laws in question may of course be just or unjust and in any nation may contain imperfections.

Rosa Ehrenreich Brooks makes an excellent point in the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 33 [2004] 119: “Building the rule of law is hard because it is hard. So it should come as no surprise that we are not very good at it. . . . . Rebuilding the rule of law requires making sure that police, judges, lawyers, and prison guards are all well-trained and adequately paid; making sure that the physical infrastructure of courthouses, prisons, and so on is adequate; rewriting legal codes; ensuring that the populace has accurate information about the changes; and so on, to name only a few of the components that go into creating that elusive state of affairs we call “the rule of law.” Trying to make all of these moving parts work together in the right way in the wake of a violent conflict is exceptionally difficult even in the best of circumstances. And in the real world, we are usually not operating in the best of circumstances. In the real world, there are too few resources, coordination is a problem, people make mistakes, and everything ends up taking longer and being more complicated than you expected. So if we have not been all that successful in building the rule of law in post-conflict settings, it is partly because such a complex enterprise is inherently difficult.”

She goes on to observe that pursuant to CPA Order 17 all International Military and Civilian personnel in Iraq were exempt from the process of Iraqi law. [This changed for civilian personnel as of 1 January 2009 pursuant to the terms of the SOFA] and she very honestly assesses the difficulties posed by the fact that “our current adventures in Iraq began with a military invasion that was perceived by many around the world – including most ordinary Iraqis – as illegitimate, enabled by our superior military might rather than by international law”.

Professor Haider Ala Hamoudi has some interesting thoughts on the subject: ‘On the Chimera of the Rule of Law in the New Iraq‘ on his blog ‘Islamic Law in Our Times’.