Today, I have been putting together a fact sheet on the IDLO-USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) joint Judicial Strengthening Program (JSP) in Kyrgyzstan - and yes, I always have to look up how to spell 'Kyrgyzstan.' This program is important because the Kyrgyz judiciary is currently overwhelmed with corrupt dealings, and it is not respected by society as a whole.
The JSP aims to to build judicial independence, reduce corruption and promote the integrity of the judiciary. I had the opportunity to evaluate an activity that we held in April of this year. The JSP held a Moot Trial as part of its Mock Court Course at the National Legal Academy in Bishkek. The course allowed students to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, in different legal professional roles.
Throughout the course, students had the opportunity to take turns in the roles of prosecutors, witnesses, investigators, and judges, handling cases designed specifically for the course, and displaying their knowledge at a final Mock Trial, where they were assessed on their skills.
At the end of each session, participants have a chance to discuss their role and determine what worked, and what they could do differently next time. This is the first time such a course has been held in Bishkek.
To give you an idea of this course's impact on real people in the Kyrgyz Republic, here are some quotes I came across from different participants:
“There are parallels to an internship, and this course will help me to prepare for my exams and will be useful in my future work,” said participant Maksat Baktygulov.
“It is a great opportunity to put what we have learnt into practice and to gain new skills,” added Aizada Baisyldaeva, a fourth year student.
Gulnara Sultanbekova, a former judge and professor on the course, said the students were very active, and “[y]ou can see their passion for learning.”
The JSP plans to expand the Mock Court Course to universities throughout Kyrgyzstan this fall, with hopes of turning it into a mock trial competition, where students compete on a national and international level. These types of programs are essential to forming a strong foundation in Kyrgyzstan and other transitioning Central Asian countries. By training and upskilling students, we are able to set this generation on a path to strengthen Kyrgyzstan's judicial system. This foundation is essential to leading the way to other civil liberties. Without a strong judiciary, no one is able to enforce new laws that reflect social change. In Kyrgyzstan as well as other transitioning countries, reform of the judiciary as the key to broader good governance. That is a lesson I will carry with me throughout my legal career.