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Welcome to the Vance Center eNotes, where you can read about our organization's latest news and developments.

February 2017

Vance Center Assists Investigative Journalists to Gain Independence


ICIJ Logo 
Photo Credit:ICIJ website

With assistance from the Vance Center, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, world-renowned for the Panama Papers expose last year, has established itself as an independent nonprofit organization, with greater flexibility and resources to pursue worldwide investigations of corruption and other malfeasance.  Several law firms, principally Paul Weiss, provided extensive pro bono expertise and engagement in the Vance Center’s effort.

ICIJ operates as a core staff of fewer than 15 journalists in Washington, D.C., Europe, Latin America, and Australia, as well as a network of nearly 200 reporters in 60 countries both affiliated with other news organizations or freelance.  It has developed technology and relationships of trust that enable collaborative investigation of enormous data sets, such as the records of hundreds of thousands of offshore companies belonging to government officials, their relatives and friends, and many others seeking secrecy, which leaked from a Panama-headquartered law firm.  This was not the first such ICIJ expose, but its most famous so far.

ICIJ began 20 years ago as a program of the Center for Public Integrity, a public interest watchdog in Washington, D.C., otherwise focused on domestic issues.  As ICIJ gained renown from its reporting, its leadership saw opportunities for expansion through hiring staff, developing technology, and forging partnerships with news media in the United States and throughout the world.  The leadership turned to the Vance Center for help in planning and negotiating a separation from CPI, so that this expansion could continue.

Over the past six months, the Vance Center called on several law firms for expert advice on legal issues of intellectual property, taxation, and nonprofit corporate organization.  Paul Weiss most notably agreed to support negotiation of agreements between ICIJ and CPI that led to ICIJ’s independence.  Its team expended extensive efforts on ICIJ’s behalf.

The Vance Center continues to advise and assist ICIJ as it strengthens its global reach and its support among journalists and the public.  This representation is one example of an institutional commitment to supporting a free press and investigative journalism through the Vance Center’s good governance program.

Vance Center Supports Post-Conflict Transition in Colombia


People gathered in Bogota,Colombia
Photo Credit: Gobari Crown

Vance Center Programs Director Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste traveled this month to Bogota, Colombia to pursue a new project to support victims’ participation in the implementation of the recent peace accords between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ending five decades of conflict.  The Vance Center will support Afro-Colombian women victims, who disproportionately suffered from the conflict, to facilitate and maximize their participation in the justice and accountability mechanisms that the peace accords provide to address crimes committed by both parties during the conflict. 

Ms. Jean-Baptiste met representatives of Afro-Colombian organizations and other human rights groups from Bogota and Colombia’s other departments, government officials in charge of the post-conflict transition, and United Nations officials in Colombia. Based on these ongoing consultations, the Vance Center will convene a first workshop in Bogota at the end of April with more than 30 Afro-Colombian women leaders to devise a strategy for increased participation of Afro-Colombia women victims in the setting up and operation of the transitional justice mechanisms.  

The project will continue with similar workshops throughout the year in other departments with a high concentration of Afro-Colombian people.  The objective is to build capacity of Afro-Colombian women victims and otherwise support their participation in the design and functioning of the transitional justice process.  While the peace accords call for the participation of victims and Afro-Colombian communities in the post-conflict transition, they so far have been mostly excluded. 

The Vance Center project seeks to fulfill this key promise of the peace accords and enable Afro-Colombian women, a particularly vulnerable segment of the victims’ community, to participate effectively in the transitional justice process.  The Vance Center is grateful to the Chubb Rule of Law Fund for underwriting this key project.

In addition to this targeted support of a particular victims group, the Vance Center is providing critical legal assistance to key institutions in charge of the implementation of the transitional justice mechanisms, including the Special Peace Jurisdiction, the justice system set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict

The Vance Center has been working for more than two years in Colombia with victims’ organizations, human rights NGOs, and the United Nations in support of the peace process.  It has  undertaken various projects supporting the peace negotiations, including advising  on securing the participation of victims in the peace process and building capacity of the Colombian government and civil society to understand better the debate on transitional justice and Colombia’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  

Vance Center Advises Environmental Client in Human Rights Proceeding 

 Carribean Sea
The Caribbean Sea
Photo Credit:Lucian Savluc
As part of the Vance Center’s Amicus Curiae Initiative, the Environment Program assisted the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (known by its Spanish acronym AIDA), in a matter before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (the “Court”). The Court requested that AIDA submit its views regarding an advisory opinion requested by Colombia on the impact of large infrastructure projects on the marine environment of the Greater Caribbean. In its brief, AIDA addressed the issue whether development that damages the marine environment and as a result, causes human suffering, should be treated as a violation of human rights.

Colombia has asked that the Court determine the scope of human rights obligations established by the American Convention on Human Rights (“American Convention”) within the context of these large projects, such as the construction of Nicaragua’s inter-oceanic canal, which experts predict will have widespread impact on the Greater Caribbean Region. The request by Colombia focuses on potential violations of the American Convention and the Convenio del Gran Caribe (“Cartagena Convention”) as they relate to environmental impact, both in terms of the habitat of marine ecosystems and the human rights of the people living on islands and/or coastal areas.

The Vance Center assisted AIDA through research on the scope of responsibility a State and/or a person, including non-state actors, may incur for extraterritorial damage to the marine environment or violations of human rights caused by a large infrastructure project. The Mexican office of the law firm Haynes Boone prepared a memorandum that AIDA relied upon in preparing its submission to the IACHR.

AIDA presented its observations before the Court in January. By interpreting the American Convention in accordance with international environmental law, AIDA argued that any action or omission by a State that causes environmental damage, and consequently compromises the territories and sources of subsistence of their populations, constitutes a violation of human rights. AIDA maintains that this interpretation also imposes obligations on non-state actors as well. It is anticipated that the Court will issue its advisory opinion in the coming months. 

Vance Center Staffer Featured in Latin Lawyer


Leire Larraocechea 
Photo Credit: Harvard Law School 

Latin Lawyer recently gave the Vance Center’s Leire Larracoechea special recognition in an interview and feature article. With the publication’s Zach Marzouk, she discussed the impact that the Vance Center has had in the development of pro bono work in Latin America and the role that she recently has played. Additionally, Larracoechea described the steps that she has taken to develop a pro bono clearinghouse in Spain.  In the article, Vance Center executive director says of Larracoechea, “By virtue of her intelligence, expertise, and personality, Leire has brought order, direction, and positive energy to our work in Latin America. She managed deftly and indefatigably the institutionalization of the Pro Bono Network of the Americas, which involved many participants talking across great distances over many months.”