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W&M professor advises Kosovo constitution drafters

01:53 PM EDT on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Associated Press

RICHMOND (AP) -- William and Mary law professor Christie S. Warren is leaving town Saturday to see one of her clients -- the newly independent nation of Kosovo, whose leaders sought her help in drafting a new constitution after breaking away from Serbia.

Warren and two other legal experts who worked on the project plan to be at a signing ceremony Monday in Pristina to mark the adoption of the new document, which they helped craft, in part by giving Kosovar leaders information about other nations' legislative and judicial systems so they could decide what would work best for their fledgling country.

"These are critically important decisions that must be made by the people in the country and the people who are going to be impacted by that -- not by the international advisers," said Warren, head of the College of William and Mary's Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Justice program. "We don't go over there and write their constitution."

The new leaders of Kosovo, which declared independence in February, wanted to depart from Serbia's government and legal structure. Warren, Tufts University law professor Louis Aucoin and U.S. District Judge John Tunheim of Minnesota started advising them in March 2007. They held a series of meetings during which they presented comparisons of how other nations dealt with certain issues and the array of possible governmental structures Kosovo could adopt.

After the first draft was created, the Kosovar leaders met with citizens, asking what they wanted in the constitution. They also set up a Web site so people could post their opinions, Warren said.

The resulting constitution will differ substantially from Serbia's, Aucoin said, and in many ways will be one of the world's most progressive.

"The Kosovars have taken some of the best lessons learned from some of the recent constitution-making experiences in the world," he said. The document will provide strong protections for citizens, including a constitutional court, key to safeguarding human rights and the rights of minorities, he said.

Meantime, Serbia and its ally Russia have continued to oppose Kosovo independence. Belgrade lost control of the province in 1999 following a NATO bombing campaign to halt a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo is one of more than 35 governments that Warren has assisted through working with the United Nations, the State Department and non-governmental organizations over the last 12 years after genocide, war and upheavals disrupted their legal systems.

Warren's advisory work dovetails with her courses, including comparative law, Islamic law, and post-conflict justice. And in many of the legal development projects, her students get to do research on issues such as establishing a public defender system in Afghanistan and developing ethics and conflict-of-interest standards in Ukraine and Moldova. They work by phone and e-mail during the school year, and a number of them get to go overseas during the summer.

Ryan Igbanol, who graduated from William and Mary's law school last spring, was the coordinator for the constitution-drafting team and its advisers, and said he was responsible for compiling the reasoning behind the provisions of the new constitution.

"It was an absolutely humbling experience," he said in an e-mail.

Doing something concrete and real -- helping people solve their problems -- is what being a lawyer should be about, Warren said. "They're not supposed to just sit in an office giving abstract advice."

Then a criminal-defense lawyer, Warren volunteered in 1994 to help train Cambodia's first wave of defense attorneys after the nation's new constitution -- with the help of Aucoin -- was adopted in 1993, 14 years after the end of the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The genocidal regime had killed all the people it considered intellectuals, including lawyers.

After a couple weeks there, she was hooked.

"I thought, This is the work I want to do," Warren said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press. "I moved to Cambodia for two years with my kids; from then I started working with other countries."

The campus of the College of William and Mary is in Williamsburg.

 

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)