The Institute was delighted to welcome Pavel Zeman, the Prosecutor General of the Czech Republic as our keynote speaker. Among those joining him was the Hon. Stephen B. King, U Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Baroness Helena Kennedy, Director, International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Institute; Veysel Ok, Media Lawyers Studies Association, Turkey; the Hon. Margaret McKeown, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Chair of the ABA/ROLI Board of Directors; renown Russian defense lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, Executive Director, Centre de la Protection Internationale, Strasbourg ; and Giovanni Kessler, former Executive Director of OLAF (the European Anti-Fraud Office), Brussels.

This year’s Annual Meeting of the CEELI Institute, held in early July, took on the tough topic of how to respond to the increasing challenges to the Rule of Law seen across Europe and beyond. A rich gathering of experts outlined many of the current concerns, including government efforts to restrict the role and independence of judges, curb the press, constrain the work of defense lawyers, and intimidate human rights defenders and other civil society activists. Special focus was put on the situation currently faced by the Polish Judiciary and by the Russian defense bar. Perhaps more importantly, the program also addressed strategies for response and resilience. Particular attention was given to examination of international and European legal mechanisms available to be used in protecting the rule of law and those most vulnerable to its weakening. In particular, there are many European legal instruments and institutions which offer important checks on the overreach by national states. The panelists explored the ways in which civil society and the legal profession can use these legal and institutional tools to combat encroachments on the rule of law.

Among the programs conclusions was that civil society is not powerless in the fact of assaults on the Rule of Law. In Europe, the available response mechanisms include use of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to assert protections of civil and human rights; examination of procedures for using and triggering Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) which provides for suspension of rights of EU member states for human rights violations; use of EU laws to respond to restrictive national legislation that interferes with independent operation of the judiciary; the availability of various mechanisms for filing claims before EU Courts, and more effective lobbying and advocacy on behalf of civic rights before EU institutions.