QUITO, Ecuador -- The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, on Wednesday inaugurated in Quito, Ecuador, the ninth meeting of ministers of justice or other ministers or attorneys general of the Americas (REMJA IX), in which he encouraged governments in the region to continue with legal reforms that lead to more efficient and independent judicial systems, and recalled that the OAS is the depository of international law in the hemisphere.
Together with the minister of justice, human rights and worship affairs of Ecuador, Pesántez Johana Benitez, Insulza inaugurated the REMJA, in which representatives in the area from all the member states of the OAS will discuss until Thursday two key areas: regional progress in strengthening access to justice and issues of legal cooperation.
In his speech, the leader of the OAS referred to the importance of hemispheric legal cooperation.
"The OAS is the natural setting for the development of international law in the hemisphere, there is no other institution that fulfills or could fulfill this function," he said, noting that "more than half of the Inter-American treaties relate to international legal cooperation and, as a whole, constitute the largest contribution of the OAS in this matter."
Insulza primarily devoted his speech to highlighting the importance of strong judicial systems for the consolidation of democracies. Such systems were considered for many years, what he called, "a sort of Cinderella of public institutions" noting next that in recent years they have been the subject of important and innovative reforms in the region.
"Since the eighties, the reform of justice systems has become a priority on the agenda of our governments and our countries. Today no one doubts that to consolidate democracy and to face the dangers that threaten it, it is essential to have an accessible, effective, efficient and independent justice system," he said.
On the process of modernization of the systems, undertaken by countries, the secretary general warned it is not an easy task and listed five key steps to carry it out successfully.
First, he said, to orchestrate it requires a "great educational effort, because reforms are a process and not a static event in time."
He added that secondly, "we must take greater advantage of accumulated knowledge and lessons learned. The experience of these years shows us that there is still an immense amount of room for improvement in the design and implementation of ongoing reforms and of those that should be undertaken in the future."
In third place, the leader of the OAS said that "we must all understand that judicial reforms must allow and ensure regular assessment of progress and results." And in fourth place, he said that "reform must be reformulated as a comprehensive policy covering both the different substantive and procedural areas as well as all the institutions related to the issue, whether courts and tribunals, police agencies, ministries of justice, prosecutors , attorneys general or prison and jail systems."
He added as a final point that "it is necessary to see judicial reform as a political process in the best sense of the word that, therefore, is of interest to all citizens and in which judges, governments and legislators should participate, as well as the private sector, research and training centers, the media and civil society."
The secretary general, who is accompanied in Quito by the secretary for legal affairs of the OAS, Jean-Michel Arrighi, expressed his belief that the meeting in Quito would produce new and positive results, noting especially two presentations to be held during the session of REMJA.
The first will be in charge of the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (CEJA), an institution that was created in the orbit of REMJA twelve years ago, and that will present a report on the processes for improving access to justice in the region. The second presentation will be conducted by the Judicial Facilitators Program.
Pesántez Benitez said REMJA constitutes "the political and technical forum of the greatest hemispheric importance for addressing issues related to access to justice, extradition, the enunciation of prison policies, treatment of cyber crime, and the development of forensic science, among others."
Referring to the reform of the judicial system of her country, Pesántez Benitez said that "in Ecuador, this process has as its primary focus human beings and their right to have access to justice."
"We seek to have it reach every corner of the country with its services," she said.
The minister emphasized in particular the popular support for judicial reform, "by constitutional mandate," and said that it is based on the "principles of solidarity, its obligatory nature, universality, equity, efficiency, subsidiarity, adequacy, transparency and participation.”
“The process of reforming courts, trial and rehabilitation centers requires a change in thinking and action in the operators of justice: judges, prosecutors, public defenders, prison treatment agents, lawyers," added Pesántez Benitez.
The REMJA process, which started in Buenos Aires in 1997, is the political and technical forum of greatest importance at the hemispheric level on issues related to strengthening access to justice and international legal cooperation in areas related to mutual assistance on criminal matters, extradition, penitentiary and prison policies, cyber crime and forensic science, among others.
The main objective of REMJA is to consolidate the rule of law in the region by strengthening the mechanisms for access to justice and international legal cooperation through the exchange of information and experiences, coordination of public policies and the creation of institutions and effective processes of cooperation.