“Often CILC seems to me more like a film producer, a facilitator, bringing all different parties together and keeping them on track. I perceive the whole process as a movie production, ensuring that all elements come together in the right way and at the right time”. Eric Vincken (1971), dubbed by his colleagues as ‘the embodied history of CILC’, is the first among CILC staff, experts and stakeholders to be featured in a series of articles about the organisation. He reflects on what it actually is that CILC does in practice, how CILC does it and no less importantly, why.
Interview by Marjolein C. Groot, 22 January 2015
How it all began
Vincken picks up a large dusty red name plate from one of the closets in his office at the Koninginnegracht 7 in the Hague. It reads ‘Raad voor Juridische Samenwerking met Indonesië’ (Council for Judicial Cooperation with Indonesia). “This is history” he states. “Initially, the Centre for International Legal Cooperation (CILC)’s predecessor the Raad voor Juridische Samenwerking met Indonesië, established in 1985, had been organising and implementing a large judicial cooperation programme between the Netherlands and Indonesia. Activities included the training of Indonesian judges and legislation lawyers and support to legal libraries in Indonesia. However, in the early 1990s former Indonesian president Suharto decided to cancel all development cooperation with the Netherlands. He had been criticized by former Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Jan Pronk on Indonesia’s role in human rights abuses particularly in East-Timor (the ‘Pronk Affair’). The fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, perestroika, glasnost and the breakdown of communist regimes would provide new opportunities for judicial support. It paved the way for CILC, which emerged from the Raad voor Juridische Samenwerking met Indonesië, as it is now, a project organisation operating worldwide in international legal cooperation and rule of law capacity building”.
According to Vincken, when the Soviet Union collapsed, all 15 former Soviet Republics needed their own, individual Civil Codes. From previous academic contacts with the Netherlands, the Russians were well aware that it was not until 1992 that a new Civil Code had been introduced in the Netherlands, based on a long history of law comparison and influence of jurisprudence. They contacted Vincken’s professor dr. F.J.M. Feldbrugge, director of the Institute of East-European law and Russian Studies at Leiden University, who connected them with the Dutch experts that had been working on this new Dutch Civil Code, such as government councilor and former vice-president of the Supreme Court professor Mr. W. Snijders.
Vincken began his activities for the newly established CILC (which had taken this opportunity to change its mandate in worldwide support of legal systems and promotion of legal systems reform) by translating legal codes from Russian into Dutch. “After the Russians the Kazakhs came, followed by the Ukrainians and the Belarusians and soon CILC became involved in so many projects that it had to expand its personnel base” Vincken recalls. “When the former deputy director of projects went on maternity leave, I took over from her. That is where it all started. I was not looking for an organisation like CILC, but I stumbled on it by accident”. Vincken had been one of the first graduates of Russian Studies at the Institute of East-European Law and Russian Studies of Leiden University with a legal specialisation, concentrating on the legal system of the former Soviet Union. For CILC, Vincken must have been the right person at the right place at exactly the right time. In March 2015, Vincken had been working for 20 years with CILC. “Currently, I am the deputy director of CILC. Together with Willem van Nieuwkerk I am focusing on running the organisation, its finances, personnel, contacts with the Board, constituencies, etc. I am also one of the senior project managers and I am involved in CILC projects in various countries on the Western Balkans and the former Soviet Union. It is on this side of my job that I am spending most of my time”.
In 1999, Vincken spent three years in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, as a seconded expert with the Ministry of Justice. Together with a local solicitor he lead a team as part of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project. “I felt and still feel this way: in order to be taken seriously in the sector CILC is engaged in, every expert should at least once and on a daily basis have experienced how it is to work in such a country, context and project” Vincken emphasizes, adding “Moldova, a country I tend to refer to as my second home, was not perhaps the most exciting place in Europe, but it was not an unpleasant place to live either. I have learned a tremendous amount about this job there.”
While still in Moldova, UNDP invited Vincken to join a large mission to Serbia where, after the fall of president Slobodan Milošević, a legal reform wave was taking place. “I have been expanding CILC’s portfolio on the Western Balkans – my main place of focus – ever since. Last year CILC became quite engaged in Moldova again, too, with three large EU projects and one smaller project through the Dutch embassy in Bucharest” Vincken says.
The relevance of CILC work
“I do this work in those countries because I strongly believe that something should change regarding the way rule of law is respected there. But of course, one should be realistic enough and understand that an intervention should fit the context and culture of a given country”.
Vincken says he is aware of the huge difference between working inside and outside a European context. “On the Western Balkans, one could use the EU accession process, its agenda and the whole accession movement as a ‘carrot and stick’”. Looking back, he is convinced that it is indeed something to be proud of when a country, such as those that were granted EU membership status in 2004, eventually gains accession to the EU. Vincken: “Of course in those countries there still are problems concerning the rule of law, but in other European countries these problems do exist too. I believe we can be proud that we have contributed in this whole process and that those countries eventually adopted our European norms and values”.
When looking at a more micro level, Vincken says he really enjoys being a witness to the professional development of certain individuals in those countries. “For example, one of the participants in one of our projects in Estonia was a young successful judge. Currently, she is a member of the European Court of Human Rights. Those individuals, the champions of change, will take a country along and ensure something changes for the better”.
Vincken recalls that with assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) CILC largely supported the team rewriting the Armenian Civil Code. “The Americans had both the money and the means but understood very well the complications of their Anglo-Saxon common law system in countries whose legal system was based on civil law”. A similar thing happened in Georgia around 1995, when the Americans requested CILC to support a young reformist politician Mikheil Saakashvili. Vincken: “Late USAID Caucasus programme director David Bronheim told us that one day this young man would be the president of Georgia. Within a year, with the support of Dutch, German and American experts, a general Administrative Code had been written and implemented in Georgia”. Meanwhile, Vincken witnessed the restructuring of the entire Georgian public sector, for a large part under the influence of Saakashvili’s movement. The country which was notorious for being amongst the most corrupt countries in the world, became one of the least corrupt countries after that event. Vincken adds: “Although limited, we could be very proud that CILC has been part of this whole process and has supported the Georgian president”. Vincken often visited the house of the president-in-the-making and also got to know Saakashvili’s Dutch wife, Mrs. Sandra Roelofs. “Once, Sandra cooked a nasi rice dinner for us. They lived in a small house, in the middle of the city centre of Tblisi, when he could still do that”.
Icing on the cake of working for CILC: State dinners with presidents and the former Dutch Queen
Vincken is very well aware of the exceptional circumstances his position as deputy director and senior project manager for CILC often grants him. “One day, on a Friday afternoon off, when I was mowing my lawn, a colleague called me up. She said she received a phone call from the court of the Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, inquiring whether I would accept an invitation of the Queen for an official state dinner with the then Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko”.
Vincken acknowledges that those things are the icing on the cake of working for CILC. Something he will probably only experience once.
What CILC aims to achieve with its projects
“Our interests are often two-fold. We would like to build capacity on the ground, but by doing so, in the long run, the interests of ‘the Netherlands Inc.’ are also supported. For example, CILC just began the second phase of a large project on the Western Balkans, the Western Balkans Prosecutors’ Network IPA2015. The project aims to support Public Prosecution Services in their fight against organised crime and corruption. CILC and the German Gesellschaft für Internationale
Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), in partnership with Eurojust, the European Judicial Network in Criminal Matters and UNODC try to support those countries in fighting organised crime and corruption. On the ground in the specific countries, public prosecutors assist the countries with implementing instruments for cross-border cooperation”. Vincken acknowledges that obviously, CILC has a dual agenda in this: “We would like to build capacity to improve the situation in the beneficiary countries and since organised crime also has its tentacles reaching out towards the rest of Europe do we ourselves also benefit when cases are being handled on the ground.”
Vincken gives another example in which the Netherlands benefits from the successful implementation of a CILC project. “In the case of Russia, we have strong interests in proper legislation, since this also supports Dutch trade and our economic interests”.
Ensuring local ownership of projects
However, according to Vincken, CILC does not just bluntly come up with a standard recipe for addressing certain things in a given country, to be copied and implemented by the recipients. “On the contrary”, Vincken underlines, “CILC always studies the local context and the degree of local support. Projects are designed and implemented with input from the local stakeholders and in cooperation with all of them a solution is being tailored, one that best fits the specific country.”
Depending on the type of project, CILC often works on governmental level, with one or more ministries, the judiciary or Public Prosecution Service, or a university faculty, the police or penitentiary service. Further, since CILC is relatively small and does not have local offices in most project countries, it often cooperates with local NGOs. Vincken: “In the Western Balkans we have a strong cooperation with the Germans (GIZ), who have local presence there, so we can use their infrastructure and networks. In other countries we implement projects through partnerships with chosen NGOs that have a similar mandate as CILC: promoting the rule of law. For example, in Moldova we are the lead in a large consortium with GIZ, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the British-based Penal Reform International. In order to implement and manage the project on the ground as effectively and efficiently as possible, CILC uses the expertise of a local NGO, the Moldovan Institute for Penal Reform. This NGO mainly focuses on penal reforms, in particular with regards to prisons and probation services.” In Indonesia, one of CILC’s projects where in partnership with the Netherlands Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) and the Dutch Studiecentrum Rechtspleging (SSR), judges are being trained and the chamber structure within the Indonesian Supreme Court is being strengthened, is being done in cooperation with a local partner. “Jakarta is quite far away from the Netherlands and we do need eyes, ears, feet and arms on the ground in addition to Skype to arrange practical issues that may arise” Vincken explains.
On the other hand, Vincken has learned that as an outsider you can perform a facilitating role on the ground, whereas inside the country each party has a certain interest and benefit. “Often, it can be hard for them to arrive at a neutral judgment”. Vincken realized this for example in Albania when he was selected as the chairman of the founding meeting of the Albanian Chamber for bailiffs. “The cards had already been divided in such a fashion that everybody wanted something. Since everyone was so biased they decided that I, being the project director of a CILC project on enforcement reform, should become the chairman of the meeting”. Smiling, Vincken adds “When, at the end of the day, a board has been elected with a chairman who is accepted by a large majority, in my view these are the pleasant things to look back at. I could then happily say I spent a useful Saturday in Tirana”.
Achieving enduring results and sustainability
In Vincken’s view, in order for projects to be successful, the results should be enduring and sustainable. Vincken: “Of course, this is possible in different ways. I feel that, for example the projects on writing and implementing a general Administrative Code in the former Soviet Union have been developments that eventually stuck. A law like this has been a novelty for the former Soviet Union, a development initiated under former USSR president Michail Gorbatsjov. At the time there were only a few options to object to a government decision”. Vincken points out that the legal cooperation with Russia, which started some 20 years ago, still bears its fruits. “For example a law that was implemented a few years ago, regarding the registration of legal entities. This might sound insignificant but for business it is something crucial”.
Vincken also feels that the drafting and implementation of the general Administrative Code in Georgia constituted a little seed. “It has been part of the movement in Georgia that led eventually to the 2003 Rose Revolution, a bloodless change of power in the Caucasus”.