FCIL-SIS Needs Officers

For anyone interested in serving as an officer in the Foreign, Comparative & International Law Special Interest Section, two positions will be open for elections this spring:

  • Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect
  • Secretary/Treasurer

If you would like to serve in either of these positions, or if you know a great law librarian you would like to nominate (with their consent), please contact James Hart, Michele Hou, or Daniel Donahue by Monday, December 15, 2014. Voting on the nominees will take place in February.

See the official call for nominations here.

uncle sam

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Database Now Available

By Laura Cadra

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) Project of the Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review has released its Inter-American Court of Human Rights Database. This freely-available database, produced by the editors and staff of the IACHR Project under the supervision of Professor Cesare Romano, allows users to search Inter-American Court decisions by case name, country, and topic. Advanced search features include the ability to search by specific violation of various Inter-American Conventions.

Search results include a brief description of the case, information on judges, and violations found by the Inter-American Court. When available, the database includes a link to a detailed case summary which includes case facts, procedural history, merits, and state compliance with the Inter-American Court’s judgment. To date, 74 detailed case summaries are available.

The database can be accessed at http://iachr.lls.edu/database. The IACHR Project welcomes comments and suggestions and can be reached at iachrproject@lls.edu.

IALL Recap: Recent Developments in Access to Laws and Legal Information in Argentina

By Teresa Miguel-Stearns

digesto_620_350Argentina recently published a digest of laws currently in force in the country in an attempt to make clear to its citizens which laws on the books are actually in effect. The resulting panel was “Development Process of the New Argentine Legal Digesto.”

Our first guest, Ramon Brenna, discussed his 15 years of work on the digest following a law approved by the National Congress to create a digest. But why a digest? And why in Argentina or in any country? According to Mr. Brenna, “The law is a message. It can be the solution to inform the people and to communicate the social demand of the people. This is crucial to any people in any country. The legal system is a collection of rules, laws that regulate life, our lives; and what is more important in the world than our lives? This is a very difficult job to compile all this legislation and legal systems are becoming more opaque; it’s hard to know what is in effect at any given time. The laws regulate our lives from the time before we are born to well after we leave this world. In any society transparency and access is very important.”

Mr. Brenna further explained that beginning in 1999, the government decided that the Argentine legal system was opaque and it was very difficult to access the law; the people did not know the law and didn’t know how to access the law. This was the ethical basis for the intervention — to make Argentine law more known, more accessible, and more human. Argentina has about 27,000 laws on the books, many pertaining to regulating government offices and other obscure and inconsequential regulation, but which makes it very difficult for anyone to find anything. What person could be expected to know 27,000 laws?

As a result of compiling the digest, we’ve gone from 27,000 laws to really only 3,353 laws, or about 10% of what we actually have. Of these, over 1600 are international treaties, which leaves only about 1600 national laws. This is much more manageable.

The Digest is the work of many people — over 120 professors within the Universidad de Buenos Aires alone have reviewed the work, and probably over 300 professionals altogether.

Our next speaker, Daniel Almakr, further explained that Argentina has been passing laws over laws without withdrawing old laws such that there has been a “contamination of laws” and the volume of laws has gotten unmanageable.

Ley 94,667 mandates the State to ensure that the people have access to the laws in force in Argentina and that it is organized for easy access. Our guests worked with the three major publishers as well: Jurisprudencia, La Ley, and El Derecho.

The methodology was in two major stages: normative and documental. Teams of lawyers trained in the analysis of laws, reviewed the national gazettes from 1983 to 2005, and looked back to 1853. They detected and identified laws that had not been contaminated and others that had been abrogated and contaminated. This first review of laws, decrees and resolutions were also examined to see which had been contaminated and others that hadn’t been. They were entered into a database which became huge when they included all the 140,000 laws, decrees, and resolutions. Fully 48,000 laws remained after the first analysis.

The first organizational step was to create a basic thematic index into which every law was inserted by using key words created after significant analysis. The creators attempted to use language that regular citizens would use. The first stage, then, ended with a huge database of all laws organized by theme and with a cross-analysis of what affected what laws. There were about 1300 national laws in force organized thematically and 1600 international treaties.

Our speakers also worked on the projects of other provinces to organize the law of social security and other government ministries in the national government. When finished, there were only 298 resolutions.

An audience member asked, “What is the relationship between the Digest and the Codes?”

Our guests answered, “The analysis includes all the codes. Still, the Codes have incorporated it’s norms and changes over the years, including the recodification of them. The Commercial Code had special treatment because it’s so large.

Another question, “What about the future?”

Answer: “The contamination of laws is extreme and constant. We have a tool for legislators called the Manual de Tecnica Legislativa that advises the explicit derogation or modification of previous laws — the Law of Consolidation.”

Our final speaker of the first session, Susan Cayuso, was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She spoke “Case Law and Developments in Legal Information in Argentina.”

The effect of Sentences of the Supreme Court of the Argentine Nation are similar to in the U.S. in that the Argentine Supreme Court is a primary power of the country and acts as a constitutional court. Argentina does not have an independent Constitutional Court. Rather, the Supreme Court diffuses its decisions to other courts. The Supreme Court is not the only decider of cases, but it is the ultimate decider.

This system has proven to be problematic in a republican government. The pronouncement of a sentences is the way that judges interpret the laws that are passed and therefore have a huge influence on democracy. The question is what is the effect the decisions have on the people?

The publicity and publication of the sentence form part of the democratic process.

A Supreme Court decision must be published within 24 – 48 hours for all to access. In the past, there was a huge delay in publishing cases because the Court was pronouncing 250 – 500 cases per week (not including cases were cert was denied). The Court was deciding over 9000 cases per year!

Our speaker then asked herself, “what is best for the citizen? Full-text or summaries/abstracts?” They have created a database and search where the result is a series of items that are aggregated. The database they’ve created certainly competes with the vendors, but it is free. Our speaker noted that this type of job on this grand scale required resources that aren’t available at the universities in Argentina.

“Ultimately, we want to show through the sentences that there have been modifications of the decisions of the Court. We want to show the Court’s development and changes over time.”

Thus, our last morning was filled with insights into the function and organization of Argentine legislation and jurisprudence, and how we might find and utilize both.

IALL Recap: Legal Research in Argentine Law

By Charles Bjork

Palace of Justice Exterior

Palace of Justice Exterior

IALL’s 33rd annual course on international law and legal information in Buenos Aires concluded with presentations about recent developments in Argentine legal research.

In May of 2014, the Argentine National Congress gave its approval to a new Argentine Legal Digest (ALD), which identifies all national laws that are currently in effect, including international treaty provisions to which Argentina is a party, and organizes them by subject. It took many years for a bicameral commission appointed by the congress to compile the ALD. Ramón Brenna, a consultant to the commission, explained that the need for the ALD arose from a combination of “legislative inflation” (the proliferation of laws over time) and “legislative contamination” (the enactment of new laws that modify or implicitly repeal prior laws, either in whole or in part). As a result of these phenomena, it had become increasingly difficult for both legal practitioners and ordinary citizens to determine which laws were currently in effect and being enforced.

Daniel Ricardo Altmark, a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Buenos Aires who served as the coordinator for the ALD project, described the methodology used to consolidate the session laws. During stage one, teams of legal scholars, practitioners, and legal publishers analyzed all of the laws published in Argentina’s official gazette from its inception to determine which laws were still operative and which ones had been modified or repealed.   This process reduced the number of laws “on the books” from approximately 27,000 to just over 3,500. During stage two, the team members classified and indexed the laws currently in force, assigned descriptors to each major provision, and prepared a table contents. They also developed guidelines for drafting new legislation designed to expedite the consolidation of laws in the future. Eventually, a continuously updated electronic edition of the ALD will be made available online.

Courtroom used by the ICHR

Courtroom used by the ICHR

The next speaker was Susana Cayuso, the Secretary of Argentina’s Supreme Court (Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación), which serves as both the final court of appeal and as a constitutional court. Ms. Cayuso described her efforts to make the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence freely accessible to members of the public via the court’s website. Currently, full-text judgments of the Supreme Court are available from 1994 onward. Users can search for judgments by keyword or by party name, docket number, and date. A model search form is available here. In addition, summaries of judgments are also available. Although the Supreme Court lacks the resources necessary to match the search functionality of case law databases developed by commercial vendors, Ms. Cayuso believes that providing free online access to the court’s jurisprudence is essential for maintaining a democratic dialog. In addition, the new database enables the court to conduct a statistical analysis of its caseload.

Courtroom used by the Argentine Supreme Court

Courtroom used by the Argentine Supreme Court

Book Review: The Twilight of Human Rights Law, by Eric Posner

By Yasmin Morais

twilight coverPosner, Eric A. The Twilight of Human Rights Law. Oxford University Press, 2014. 176 p.

“Human rights law has failed to accomplish its objectives. More precisely, there is little evidence that human rights treaties, on the whole, have improved the well-being of people, or even resulted in respect for the rights in those treaties.” So argues Eric A. Posner in his Introduction to The Twilight of Human Rights Law. The fourteenth book in the Inalienable Rights series, published by Oxford University Press, The Twilight of Human Rights Law offers candid explanations for limited progress on human rights. Posner’s central argument is that human rights law is grounded in a view that the good in every country can be broken down to a set of rules that are capable of being enforced in an impartial way. He terms this “rule naiveté”, which he considers partly responsible for the proliferation of human rights, making meaningful enforcement impossible.

Posner presents in chapter one a thorough overview of the history and development of international human rights law. He highlights, in particular, the United States’ and other Western European governments’ resort to torture in the aftermath of September 11th, noting this a challenge to the human rights regime. The role played by NGOs in advocating human rights is also acknowledged.

Chapter two provides keen analysis of key institutions of human rights, and examines their effectiveness in ensuring states’ compliance with treaty obligations. One constraint highlighted was the weakness of the United Nations Human Rights Committees, which lack the power to sanction or issue legally binding judgments.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and its limitations are also explored. Despite its jurisdiction over approximately 800 million people, the ECHR is unable to strike down domestic laws, which in Posner’s view, limits the effect of each of its decisions. However, while Posner does mention the success of the ECHR with cases such as Hirst v. United Kingdom, the book could have benefitted from more discussion on the impact of Convention rights on English Law, particularly since the entry into force of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998.

Over the next three chapters, Posner explores why states enter into human rights treaties and reviews the rates of compliance and the factors accounting for their compliance. He raises important points about the relationship between a country’s level of development and its record of compliance, and the competing needs with which developing states must grapple. For example, “a law that provides greater health services to women…might result in fewer funds for schools, so that the net effect of the law is to improve compliance with CEDAW but reduce compliance with ICESR” (p.72). Another salient point is the challenge of conducting research on states’ compliance, given limited data and the methodological difficulties involved.

Posner reflects in chapter six on whether human rights law serves to discourage states from engaging in warfare. On a pessimistic note, he recounts a number of conflicts, many of which were initiated as a result of human rights violations. He also compares conflicts among authoritarian, quasi-authoritarian and democratic states, noting that “democracies are quite warlike-with non-democracies rather than with each other. Thus, respect for human rights in democracies does not lead to a generalized pacifism or aversion to war, or even to a preference (relative to authoritarian countries) for resolving conflicts using peaceful means.” (p.126).

In concluding, Posner admits successes, but he lays bare the overall systemic shortcomings and the unique challenges of various states. However, he suggests there is hope in a “fresh start” and a humbler approach on the part of Western nations. While the inclusion of a table of cases would have enhanced the book, it is nevertheless replete with data, including an extensive List of Rights (Appendix) and a bibliography. The Twilight of Human Rights Law is an important assessment of human rights law, useful for human rights scholars in general, persons interested in European Union law or anyone who desires a current analysis of human rights law. It can be read in tandem with Christian Tomuschat’s Human Rights: Between Idealism and Realism, 3rd ed. (2014), also by Oxford University Press.

Must-Read LITA Blog Post: Cataloging a World of Languages, by Leanne Olson

By Susan Gualtier

online catalogIf there is one thing I have learned during my first few years as an FCIL librarian, it is that our catalogers are rarely as excited as I am when the foreign language selections come in.  This is why I was so pleased to find Leanne Olson‘s LITA blog post, Cataloging a World of Languages, while sorting through all of the #IALL2014 and #LVI2014 tweets this morning.

Olson identifies just a few of the challenges facing the cataloger of foreign language titles and shares a number of free tools that catalogers and others may find useful in working in an unfamiliar language.  She covers language identifiers, translation tools, bibliographic dictionaries, and subject-specific glossaries.  She also has suggestions for how to deal with non-Roman alphabets and transliteration and with those pesky diacritics that may not quite work with your system’s encoding scheme.

As a reference librarian and foreign law selector, I can see these tools being useful in my work, as well. Either way, I enjoy finding sources that allow me to offer even a little assistance to our technical services librarians when it comes to foreign language titles – or, at the very least, to better understand the difficulties they face.  If you have any tips or tricks for cataloging foreign language titles, please share them in the comments section below!  In the meantime, I will definitely be bookmarking Olson’s post for safekeeping.

Introducing…Charles Bjork as the October FCIL Librarian of the Month

By Dan Wade

Photo - Charles BjorkCharles Bjork, International & Foreign Law Reference Librarian at the John Wolff International & Comparative Law Library of the Georgetown Law School received this year’s Newest Law Librarian Award at the FCIL-SIS Business Meeting in San Antonio. After a lengthy legal career, he decided to change careers. For information on his new position, his education and work experience, see the fall 2014 issue of the FCIL-SIS Newsletter.

Charles’ first job while in high school was in the local public library. He has a long interest in international relations and foreign affairs going back to high school. His time as an undergraduate coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. He spent the summer of his junior year as an intern for a member of the British Parliament. Library School allowed Charles to rekindle his interest in foreign and international law. He created a LibGuide to European Union law as a class project for a government information course. The guide was subsequently published as an official University of Illinois LibGuide (http:// uiuc.libguides.com/law-europeanunion). At the Jenner Law Library, Charles assisted Barb Henigman, the head of technical services, and Jane Williams, the FCIL librarian, with the ongoing foreign law reclassification project.

At Georgetown, Charles really enjoys working with students, especially the foreign-educated LL.M. students who come from countries with civil law systems. Charles’ brother is a professor of modern European history at King’s College at the University of London. His father was a public school administrator who also taught courses in the graduate school of education at Roosevelt University in Chicago. So working in the field of higher education runs in the family.

Like many of us, Charles is a news junkie. He wants to know what is going on in the world. He’ll take it any way he can get it—online or in print. He enjoys the popular classics; he likes to sing along to Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”

Charles enjoys all kinds of foods, but he especially enjoys pastry and baked goods of any kind. He thoroughly enjoys cooking. After spending most of his day sitting at a desk in front of a computer monitor, getting his hands dirty is therapeutic. (You may know the feeling!) He likes to explore his Swedish heritage through cooking. He has even been known to pickle his own herring for the holidays. (He is the first to admit it is an acquired taste!) Not surprisingly, he also enjoys eating out. He has been pleasantly surprised at how vibrant the dining scene is in and around D.C. While it doesn’t have quite the depth of Chicago, it is attracting some innovative young chefs. Recently, while his brother was visiting, they were fortunate to get a table at Rose’s Luxury, which was just named the best new restaurant in the United States by Bon Appetit magazine.

Another hobby/pastime of Charles is visiting historic sites of which there is no shortage in the Washington area. He attributes this interest, in part, to have grown up during the American bicentennial celebration. The great thing about living in the Washington area is that he is within a two or three hour drive of so many historic places. So far he has visited Annapolis and Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. He is looking forward to visiting Williamsburg and Winterthur. He is also looking forward to attending the AALL Annual Meeting next summer in Philadelphia, which he has not visited for more than thirty years.

As a special gift to his new colleagues, Charles has some tips for those planning to attend the 2016 AALL Annual Meeting in Chicago. (Please share these with your colleagues in the library; everyone will get to know Charles!) As a restaurant recommendation he suggests Russian Tea Time, which is situated half a block west of the Art Institute on the opposite side of Michigan Avenue. In addition to all the Russian classics, they also serve a variety of dishes from the former Soviet republics in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Diners are bound to encounter something they’ve never eaten before, and there are lots of interesting vegetarian options. This is a fun place to go with a group (Our Ukraine reading group?) Best to book ahead.

When Rick Bayless opened Frontera Grill nearly 30 years ago, he introduced Chicagoans to authentic, regional Mexican cooking. If you’ve only experienced Americanized Mexican food, this is a great place to try ceviche, sopes, and mole. Frontera accepts a limited number of reservations each day, but most tables are filled on a first come, first served basis. So book early or book late. If you can’t make it to the restaurant, look for Tortas Frontera in Terminals 1 and 3 at O’Hare.

As for sightseeing in Chicago, Charles highly recommends the walking tours sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Their boat tour along the Chicago River is especially recommended for first time visitors. (Maybe these tips will encourage Philadelphians to blog their favorite ethnic restaurants!)

If you are a newer FCIL librarian and would like to be introduced to the esteemed community of FCIL librarians, please let me know at daniel.wade@yale.edu.