PREPARATORY WORK FOR THE FOURTH MEETING OF MINISTERS OF JUSTICE OR OF MINISTERS OR ATTORNEYS GENERAL OF THE AMERICAS
1. Permanent Council
On August 16, 2000, the Permanent Council forwarded to the Special Group on Justice for consideration resolutions:
AG/RES. 1698 (XXX-O/00), “Meeting of Ministers of Justice or of Ministers or Attorneys General of the Americas”;
-AG/RES. 1763 (XXX-O/00), “Follow-up to the Recommendations and Conclusions of the Meeting of Ministers of Justice or of Ministers or Attorneys General of the Americas.”
At that time, Ambassador Rhenan Segura, Alternate Representative of Costa Rica, was elected Chair of the Group by acclamation. Subsequently, at its meeting of October 23, 2000, the Council decided that the Special Group should be coordinated by the Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs and, by acclamation, elected Mackisack Logie, Alternate Representative of Trinidad and Tobago, as Chair of the Special Group.
2. Special Group on Justice
As it began its work, the Special Group took into account what had been decided by the Heads of State and Government in the Plan of Action of the Third Summit of the Americas on the subject “Hemispheric Meetings of Ministers of Justice” and pointed out the following:
Continue to support the work done in the context of the meetings of ministers of justice and attorneys general of the Americas, whose fourth meeting will take place in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as subsequent meetings, and the implementation of their conclusions and recommendations;
Develop a funding plan for the Justice Studies Center of the Americas that takes into account the interests and resources of both governments and other likely donors, and that will enable the Center to contribute not only to the modernization and formulation of public policy in this area, but also to the institutional development of judicial systems in the region;
Develop an exchange of best practices and recommendations, through the meetings of ministers of justice and other appropriate mechanisms, seeking the technical and financial support of other multilateral organizations and multilateral development banks where appropriate, that are consistent with international human rights standards, to reduce the number of pre-trial detainees, institute alternative forms of sentencing for minor crimes and improve prison conditions throughout the Hemisphere;
Establish, in the OAS, an Internet-based network of information among competent legal authorities on extradition and mutual legal assistance to facilitate direct communications among them on a regular basis and to identify common problems in handling specific cases and issues that merit collective attention and resolution.
Likewise, the Special Group on Justice, which was then chaired by Ambassador Rhenan Segura, Alternate Representative of Costa Rica, held five meetings with a view, inter alia, to begin to review the conclusions and recommendations arising out of REMJA-III.
With respect to cyber-crime, the Group again considered the questionnaire drawn up to identify legal frameworks already in place in the countries of the region on that subject. The Group reiterated to the governments of member states that it was important to receive their replies to the questionnaire.5/ So far, answers have been received from the Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela.6/
In addition, the Permanent Council’s Special Group on Justice considered the information provided by the Secretariat for Legal Affairs of the OAS General Secretariat regarding the exchange and dissemination of information on this subject through the OAS Web site. There was also discussion on the possibility of deciding on a third meeting of experts that would continue to address analysis, definitions, and courses of action to be pursued in this field. The First Meeting had described cyber-crime as “a criminal activity in which information systems (including, inter alia, telecommunications and computer systems) are the corpus delicti or means of committing an offense.”7/
With assistance from the Secretariat for Legal Affairs, the Special Group on Justice has been analyzing extradition, seizure of assets, and mutual legal assistance, on the one hand, and the procedures or requirements for extradition, on the other, bearing in mind observations remitted by the governments of member states. So far, observations have been received from the following countries:
On the subject of extradition, seizure of assets, and mutual legal assistance: United States, Mexico, Peru, Jamaica, Panama, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago.8/
On extradition requirements: Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Chile, Panama, and Venezuela.9/
In February 2001, the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs received a visit from Mr. Juan Enrique Vargas Viancos, the Executive Director of the Justice Studies Center of the Americas, who told the Committee about the activities the Center had planned for this year.
In accordance with the Center’s Statute,10/ a report on activities carried out by the Center and its work plan will be presented to REMJA-IV for the information and consideration of the ministers of justice and attorneys general of the Americas.
On May 11, the Special Group, with the agreement of the Permanent Mission of Canada, had the honor to welcome experts Patricia Dunberry and Belanger Pierre-Gilles from Canada, who had the following to say with respect to the network for the exchange of information regarding mutual legal assistance.
The aim of the network linking interested OAS member states is to improve communications between them concerning mutual legal assistance. It will thus be in accordance with the aim expressed by the Quebec City Summit, i.e., to strengthen our democracies. The network will provide us with a better understanding of the criminal law and mutual legal assistance systems with which we should be working in order to improve cooperation, in light of current requirements.
The network should enable those using it to communicate more easily, to find readily and quickly the necessary adequate information, while allowing citizens to become better informed of their government’s role in this regard. Clearly, the network follows in the wake of the focus on greater democracy through improved access to justice.
Because it would be readily available and accessible and come equipped with a search mechanism, such a network would enable users to find existing information on mutual judicial assistance in the official language of each member state. It could also be equipped with templates accessible in the four official languages of the OAS member states, i.e., English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
The network would include both a public and private component. Given the limitations on the confidentiality that could be ensured with respect to digital information and the different systems used by the OAS countries, it would be wishful thinking to attempt to encrypt messages that were accessible on this network. While a level of confidentiality could be ensured through the use of passwords, it would be more realistic, in light of the shortened lifetime provided in which to develop the network, to focus our efforts on making the network generally accessible.
iv. Contents and results
The Web site could initially be used for exchanges between the four states represented in the working group and include two windows, the first private and the second public. In the private window, OAS member states could disseminate their information in a Web-site field restricted to OAS member states. The public window, on the other hand, could contain basic documents, such as legislation and policies, thereby allowing a large number of citizens of the Americas to benefit: The following are examples of documents that could be posted on the Web site:
Laws on extradition and mutual judicial assistance in criminal matters,
International instruments related to mutual judicial assistance, e.g., treaties,
Explanatory notes concerning laws and legal doctrine,
Policies on extradition law and mutual judicial assistance,
Guidelines on the mutual judicial assistance application procedure,
A checklist and an explanation of the procedure to be followed,
A list of resource persons, including addresses and telephone numbers.
In May 2001, the Special Group on Justice submitted to the Permanent Council a preliminary draft agenda for REMJA-IV.
The preliminary draft reflects the mandates contained in the conclusions and recommendations adopted at REMJA-III and was presented to allow delegations an opportunity to make comments and suggest the inclusion of new topics.
The following topics on the preliminary draft agenda merit particular attention:
Ensure follow-up to the implementation of the recommendations of the Group of Government Experts in the framework of the OAS, taking into account the need to prepare guidelines to orient national efforts in the field of cyber-crime through, for instance, the development of model legislation or other pertinent legal instruments and training programs. (REMJA-III).
b. Extradition and mutual legal cooperation
Urges member states of the OAS that have not already done so to present the information requested as soon as possible in order to permit a comprehensive assessment of the situation in the Hemisphere with regard to this topic;
Invites the OAS to disseminate that information through its web page;
Encourages member states of the OAS to provide, in addition to the information already presented, material on the way extradition requests are handled by their executive and judicial branches;
Emphasizes the need to promote heightened awareness among members of the legislative and judicial branches regarding their responsibility with respect to extradition;
Resolves to establish, in order to strengthen cooperation and mutual confidence in this field, an information network composed of competent authorities and mandated to prepare specific recommendations in the area of extradition and mutual legal assistance for consideration by said authorities prior to plenary session of REMJA-IV. That network, fed by data from different legal systems in the Hemisphere, should rely as far as possible on electronic communication media, especially the Internet.
c. Application of judicial and juridical cooperation agreements in the Americas
To request the General Secretariat of the OAS to prepare a study on the obstacles impeding the effective application of treaties of legal and judicial cooperation, on the basis of reports to be submitted by member states.
To evaluate the application of inter-American conventions in force in the area of legal and judicial cooperation, in order to identify measures for their effective implementation or, if appropriate, to determine whether the existing legal framework in the Hemisphere should be changed.
d. Central authorities
To recommend the OAS convene a meeting of central authorities in due course to strengthen cooperation among those authorities in relation to the various conventions on the subject of legal and judicial cooperation.
Reaffirming a recommendation already made at the REMJA-II, a meeting of central authorities under OAS auspices was requested to ensure greater compliance with the obligations enshrined in the various different international legal instruments on judicial cooperation.
e. Prison and penitentiary policy
Recommendations of all the REMJAs. One suggestion is to convene a meeting of “Directors of Prison Administration” in order to promote the exchange of national experience and technical cooperation in prison and penitentiary policy matters.
f. Access to justice. Alternative conflict resolution and other mechanisms
Recommendations of all REMJAs. Proposal to develop a network through the Internet on alternative dispute resolution methods.
g. Justice Studies Center of the Americas
Pursuant to its Statute, the Justice Studies Center of the Americas will submit a report to the REMJA on its activities and work plan.
In September 2001, the Permanent Council submitted to the Special Group on Justice for consideration resolution AG/RES. 1781 (XXXI-O/01). In October that year, on the basis of what the General Assembly had mandated in that resolution, the Group continued its analysis of the recommendations entrusted to it by REMJA-III and consequently the preparation of the draft agenda and draft schedule for that meeting.
The Special Group on Justice, at its meeting of November 15, 2001, elected Mr. Mauricio Alice, Alternate Representative of Argentina, by acclamation, as Vice Chair of the Group.
On the same occasion, the Vice Chair was entrusted with coordinating the informal meetings necessary for concluding preparation of the draft agenda and draft work plan for REMJA-IV. For that purpose, the Group held five informal meetings, led by the Vice Chair, and submitted the results to the Group for consideration on February 1, 2002, on which occasion it was decided to transmit to the Permanent Council for information and consideration the draft agenda and draft schedule for REMJA-IV.