FCIL Newsletter, October 1995

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FCIL Newsletter / October 1995

Excursion to Kazakhstan

by Kent McKeever
Columbia University Law School Library

Over the last couple of years one of the key US/AID programs in the old Soviet Union has been the "Rule of Law" (ROL) program. This is a multipronged program which aims to help strengthen democratic institutions in the "newly independent states." In Central Asia the umbrella organization to implement this program has been the American Legal Consortium (ALC), with the Washington-based Chemonics, Inc., as the lead contractor. They have established a field office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to implement the various parts of the program. This is a central office to support programs in all of the Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

The ROL/ALC program has five components. They are parliamentary support, judicial support, intragovernmental communications support, assistance in creating non-governmental organizations, and information resources development. The last item has been subcontracted to MetaMetrics, Inc., another Washington-based firm which has specialized in domestic and foreign public administration improvement projects. They needed a law librarian to help analyze potential user needs and to help draft a workplan for what has come to be known as the pilot "Law and Democracy Resource Center" (LDRC). So for two weeks in June and July of 1994 I found myself in Almaty, formerly Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.

My work involved interviewing law-related workers ranging from the minister of justice to law students. They all agreed they needed a lot of help. At the same time it became clear that whatever was created had to be created by the people of Kazakhstan, not the United States. This has meant that things are developing slowly, but once an institution is created, it will have a more secure base than if it had been plunked down in Almaty as a U.S. operation.

The main function of the LDRC will be to act as a modern information center, providing materials and services to support research in law and the democratic processes. To provide these services, a local library collection will be developed, access to the electronic communications systems such as the Internet will be established, and, in the long run, access to international online database services will also be established. To run this, staff will be hired and trained to provide high quality access to the local collection and to collections throughout the world via interlibrary loan of photocopied materials. The users are expected to be a wide range of people, from law students to judges, and from NGO activists to government officials. Providing information services is the primary purpose of the LDRC, and the fulfillment of this purpose will take precedence over any other function, especially during the startup period.

The library and information services would also act as a base of support for the various other programs of the Rule of Law Program. In the first six months of the ROL program, this has involved programs of election observation, electoral analysis, judicial education, NGO development and cooperation, and attorney training and organization. The gathering of materials in support of future operations of this sort will be much easier once the LDRC is in place.

The LDRC will be open to everyone. Many US/AID programs other than the ROL program will also find support for the legal aspects of their work. Other NGOs will be able to work on the legal parts of their agendas as well. Many of the local NGOs have as their objectives the improvement of specific sectors of government activity. It is also clear that government workers themselves will be able to find useful materials in the LDRC. The judiciary will be able to interpret laws with a firmer sense that they are working within modern norms.

Since the LDRC intends to build comprehensive collections of U.S. and Kazakhstani statutory materials, commercial lawyers will also benefit. It will be an important function of the Center's management to insure that all of these interests are balanced.

Although libraries are often perceived as passive operations, the LDRC will be structured so as to be able to develop educational programs in a number of areas relevant to its functions. These might include legal research, communications technology for NGOs, modern library techniques (including the basics of the Internet), and the basics of a modern legal vocabulary, to assist the translator community. Although the LDRC may not have the expertise on its own to lead all of these, or any others which might come up, it will be in a position to broker minicourses by learning what is needed, and finding who is able to fulfill that need.

The ALC will supervise coordination of LDRC operations with other institutions in Almaty and in the oblasts. Primary partners would include the USIS operations in Almaty, the National Library, the parliamentary information center, the university libraries, the libraries at the Adilet Law School, the Judicial Institute, and any other agencies that maintain collections related to law and democracy. User coordination will also be essential, and will be facilitated to a large degree through representation on the board of directors.

Since my visit, a full-time law librarian, Joseph Luke, has been hired to help establish the Center. The first one actually opened in Dushanbe, the capital of Tadjikistan. It is set up as a unit within the National Library. I will be returning to Almaty in November to help with a seminar for the Kazakhstanis who would be interested in developing the center, or in developing similar libraries for their own institutions or in other cities.

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