The Strengthening Ecuadorian Justice Project

I'm here as the only intern and only American in the office in Quito working on the Strengthening Ecuadorian Justice Project (SEJP). The SEJP is a three-year initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI), a non-government, not-for-profit organization based out of New York. The goal of the program is to promote the rule of law in Ecuador, and the SEJP partners with the Attorney General's Office, the Public Defender's Office, multiple judiciary officials and government bodies, law schools at universities around the country, and Ecuadorian civil society organizations. The project began in June 2010 and will be completed in June 2013.

There are four Components to the SEJP. The first goal is to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system. This in practice means implementing alternate procedures and special proceedings to ensure that trials are speedy; pre-trial detentions are fair, merited, and not long; that proper cases make their way to the courts and not those where there is little to no investigation or where the victim's interests take precedence over a trial; and other similar remedies. The second goal is to expand access to justice. The SEJP is pursing this tenet by strengthening the Public Defender's Office, providing support to legal clinics at universities, and by providing professional support to lawyers and other actors in the judicial system. The third goal is to involve the citizenry in judicial reform. The SEJP is carrying out the third Component by providing support to civil society organizations through a Small Grants Program and by working on other outreach initiatives. The fourth goal is to improve transparency and confidence in the judicial system. The SEJP is working in conjunction with important government bodies in the judicial sector to analyze their operations and offer recommendations for transparent behavior and best practices. If you want to read more about this in Spanish (and hopefully in English once my first project is completed), visit the SEJP's own website here.

On the first day, I spent all of my morning reading quarterly reports, project proposals, workplans, and similar administrative documents about the SEJP. This helped me figure out where the project wants to go and where it's been so far, and since the documents were in both Spanish and English, I helped learn some of the key words and phrases in both languages. This ended up incredibly useful for my second project, which has been translating the website. I have been working on this all week. It's taken me a lot longer than expected because I am trying to make sure that the translations make sense, use the most common or appropriate English words, are gramatically and structurally correct, and use the same terms that are used in the administrative documents I read. In addition to working on the website, every morning we receive a bulletin on judicial news in Ecuador. I spend a lot of time closely reading that every morning, not only to gain an understanding of the structure of the system and the current issues but also looking up every word I don't know to improve my Spanish vocabulary.

The reality of the situation is that I am a little less useful here than I would be at another summer job in the United States. I don't have a command of the Spanish language that is strong enough to compose meaningful and superbly-written documents myself, I don't know the Ecuadorian judicial system well, and I don't know the general best practices for rule of law initiatives or the improvement of justice. Therefore, I see my two goals in this venture as contributing what I can with my personal strengths, and learning as much as I can while I am here. Maybe if I learn lots over the next few weeks I can be of more vital use to the SEJP later in my internship.

I'm almost done with translating the website, and I'm not sure what my next project will be. However, I do have one idea: I would really like to get my hands on some more technical documents. It's one thing for me to know, to read and translate all day, that the Criminal Procedure Code has provisions about alternate prodecures and special proceedings. It is another thing for me to see the Code and to identify that a special proceeding might include the release on probation of offenders with no prior offenses and with a crime classified in a low grade of severity, or such a thing, as detailed in a specific provision. But we'll see what the Project Director, Patricia, has in mind for me.

That's all for now on work! Excitingly, I also moved yesterday into what will hopefully be my home for the next two months. But I'll tell you all about that, hopefully with some jazzy pictures, in another blog post.

Miss everyone at home!