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Vance Center Receives New Funding

July 2022

The National Endowment for Democracy awarded the Vance Center’s Human Rights Program a grant for two years to support a strategic litigation initiative as part of its Women in Prison Project to improve laws and policies in the Latin American and Caribbean region protecting women in prison. The Vance Center will engage with Inter-American and United Nations human rights mechanisms through litigation and advocacy to clarify states’ obligation to enact laws and policies that take into account the unique pathways and consequences of the incarceration of women and therefore better protect women’s rights under international and regional human rights frameworks.

The Vance Center will undertake the project in collaboration with the Women in Prison Network. The Network convenes women prisoners’ rights advocates from the Americas, Africa, and Asia to 1) share information about conditions of women’s imprisonment in their respective countries and regions; and 2) build capacity for improved monitoring and reporting of conditions in women’s prisons. The Network, which the Vance Center created and manages, is the first global network of advocates for women prisoners and includes 45 individual advocates (including formerly incarcerated women) and 34 organizations from a total of 21 countries, representing every continent. The Network is a safe space for advocates to share information and best practices, seek collaborations, and build capacity for improved monitoring and reporting of conditions in women’s prisons worldwide.

With the strategic litigation initiative funded by NED, the Vance Center will build on prior advocacy and projects by the Network to clarify the obligations that states in the region have under regional and international law to create legal frameworks and policies that protect the rights of women in prison, to raise general awareness, and to foster public discussion and debate on the societal factors that cause women to come into conflict with the law and the impact of women’s incarceration on society, family, and children. This public awareness and debate are the first steps towards a more just and equitable society where women are empowered and protected.

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The Vance Center received a $100,000 grant from the Tinker Foundation for an 18-month project to expand its work on judicial independence in Latin America. The project will seek to strengthen regional coordination to build the capacity of judges to act independently and with integrity and to raise awareness within the legal community of the challenges that the judiciary faces in the region.

Thanks to the grant, the Vance Center will be able to: assess conditions for judicial independence in Latin America; organize a regional discussion for judges, other members of the legal community, and civil society actors to share experiences, challenges, and best practices; and develop tools to improve communications about judicial independence in the media and among the public.

The project evolved from discussions with individual judges and judicial associations through the Vance Center’s work on judicial independence in Central America. The judiciary is a key institution for the protection and advancement of the rule of law and accountable governance, making it a target of governments and other powerful groups who wish to concentrate their power and assert their will. For instance, in Guatemala, Judge Erika Aifán, a former trial judge presiding over Guatemala’s High Risk Court, faced countless threats over the years to her judicial independence and personal safety. Last fall, proceedings were brought before the Supreme Court of Guatemala to lift her judicial immunity, causing her to resign and flee the country. Many other countries in the region are responding to similar attacks against the judiciary, and individual judges and judicial associations are often left to protect their independence on their own and with inadequate resources, highlighting the need for regional coordination and support.

The Tinker Foundation was one of the first institutional funders of the Vance Center and has provided critical support over the years for our work to advance pro bono initiatives in Latin America and increase collaborations between civil society organizations and the legal community in the region.