Our Year in Review: 2023 at the Vance Center
Throughout 2023, we celebrated how far we've come in 20 years and looked ahead toward a bright future. Read on for some selected highlights from a year full of Vance Center achievements across the globe.
Upholding Core Elements of Democratic Governance
An Independent Judiciary: Working closely with the Latin American Federation of Judges (FLAM) and other national and regional partners, the Latin America Policy Program continued to call out threats to judicial independence and support judges in asserting their key role as defenders of democracy. Our actions included a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on threats to judicial independence, publishing country-level assessments of judicial independence in seven countries, and continuing to pursue justice for exiled Guatemalan judge Erika Aifán.
Spotlight: Inter-American Dialogue on Judicial Independence
The IACHR hearing inspired an October 2023 regional dialogue on basic obstacles and threats to independent judicial actors across Latin America. More than 70 judges from 17 different countries, along with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Professor Margaret Satterthwaite, reached a consensus and a plan to address these challenges at this unique event.
Press Freedom: The Vance Center confronted growing threats to press freedom both domestically and internationally. Lawyers for Reporters, which provides pro bono legal services to independent, local and mission-driven news organizations across the U.S., expanded its staff and added dozens of new clients. Reporters Shield, an initiative of the Vance Center and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, received more than 100 applications for its program to defend members against vexatious defamation lawsuits, and welcomed its first members.
Combating Corruption: The Vance Center continued to fight against corruption in critical, high-impact areas of law reform and practice, including analyzing its impact on migrant populations, whistleblower protection in Mexico, civic space in West Africa, and strengthening legal institutions in Guatemala.
Protecting Fundamental Human and Environmental Rights
Incarcerated Women’s Rights: More than 30 members of the Women in Prison Network convened in January in Bogotá to plan strategic litigation and advocacy on the particular causes and consequences of incarcerating women. The Human Rights Program supported network members in countries including Guatemala and Bolivia and developed submissions to U.N. bodies on issues impacting women who have been incarcerated or interacted with law enforcement.
Immigrant Rights: The Keep Families Together initiative assisted dozens of migrant children and families to obtain the legal documentation they need to secure immigration relief in the U.S. In 2023 alone, we responded to more than 140 requests for support.
Intersection of Human and Environmental Rights: The Environment Program collaborated further with UN Special Rapporteurs to center human rights in climate change litigation and high-level dialogues, a partnership developed over more than 10 years.
Spotlight: Youth and Climate
This year, we worked on several key projects at the intersection of environmental rights, climate, and youth. This included legal research on prevention, precaution, and intergenerational equity principles for use in UN General Comment No. 26 (July 2023) on advancing children’s rights and the environment. The Environment program also supported two youth climate justice organizations in preparing “The Youth Climate Justice Handbook,” a guide for states to formulate climate-ambitious arguments to the International Court of Justice.
Promoting Public Interest Law and a More Diverse Legal Community
Pro Bono Practice Development: The international development of pro bono practice inspired the founding of the Vance Center 20 years ago and remains a central focus. The Africa Program launched Kenya’s first clearinghouse this spring, and two dynamic 20th anniversary celebrations – one held in Bogotá in March and the second in Johannesburg in October – sparked planning for the future of pro bono practice.
Women in the Profession: Our Women in the Profession Program conducted regional convenings, re-launched its chapter in Colombia, and continued the extension of WIP to the African continent, with new chapters in Kenya and Ethiopia. The Advancing Women in the Workplace (AWW) project in South Africa entered its second year with a new cohort and renewed energy.
Supporting Public Interest Law Careers: We welcomed a new cohort of Access to Justice practitioners from Brazil, Peru, and Chile to begin the program’s third year.