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Open World Program Brings 33 Russian Judges to Six States. Visit Coincides with Russia's Implementation of New Judicial Reforms
March 5, 2002

Six delegations of leading Russian judges arrive in Washington, D.C., March 6, 2002, for a high-level rule of law exchange sponsored by the Open World Program. Open World brings young Russian leaders to the United States for a hands-on introduction to its democratic institutions and market economy. Previously known as the Russian Leadership Program, Open World is operated by the independent Center for Russian Leadership Development at the Library of Congress, and is the only exchange program in the legislative branch.

The Russian judges' visit launches Open World's 2002 program. Open World exchanges on the rule of law and other important themes are designed to foster mutual understanding between the United States and the Russian Federation and to further the process of building democracy and a market economy in Russia.

The 33 Russian judges arriving March 6 will first participate in an intensive two-day orientation session at the Library. Each delegation of judges will then spend March 9-16 in a different U.S. city, studying the U.S. court system and meeting with their American counterparts. The six host communities are Detroit/Ann Arbor, Michigan; Eugene, Oregon; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Rochester, New York; and Tampa, Florida.

The Center operates Open World's pioneering rule of law program for 2002 in cooperation with the International Judicial Relations Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal courts' chief policymaking body, and with the nonprofit Russian American Rule of Law Consortium (RAROLC). RAROLC partners the legal establishments of seven U.S. states and seven Russian regions.

While in their U.S. host cities, the Russian judges will hold working meetings with prominent federal and state judges; attend court proceedings; participate in roundtables and briefings with prosecutors, public defenders, U.S. marshals, private attorneys, and court personnel; tour correctional institutions; and visit law schools to sit in on classes and meet with professors.

The judges' visit to the United States comes at an important stage in Russia's democratic transition. This year, the Russian Federation begins implementing President Vladimir Putin's recently enacted judicial reform package-one of the main components of which is the expansion of jury trials nationwide. The extensive reforms also include provisions aimed at enhancing the status, accountability, and independence of the Russian judiciary by improving judges' pay and ending their lifetime tenure and immunity from prosecution.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, whose vision inspired Congress to authorize the Open World Program and who serves as acting chair of the Center's Board of Trustees, stated that "the judges participating in Open World are on the front line of judicial reform. Through Open World, these Russian judges will be immersed in the American system of justice, which provides strong legal protections and equality before the law. It is our hope that their participation in Open World will benefit the Russian judges as they work to implement legal reforms in Russia."

Up to 300 Russian judges will participate in Open World's rule of law program this year. Senior federal and state judges across the United States plan and participate in the Russians' local programs in special judge-to-judge hosting relationships.

In most locations, members of local Rotary clubs will work with the host judges to arrange and conduct the judges' activities. Rotary International has played a major role in hosting Open World participants since the program was first authorized as a pilot in 1999. The American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS is managing the logistical and administrative aspects of the judges' visits on behalf of Open World.

In addition to judges, Open World participants range from State Duma deputies to small-town mayors, from innovative nonprofit directors to experienced journalists, and from political party activists to regional administrators. Nearly 4,000 Open World visitors from 88 of Russia's 89 regions have been hosted by 48 states since the program's inception, making it the largest and most geographically diverse exchange the United States has ever conducted with Russia. The program's alumni represent a broad range of political parties and ethnic groups, and about a third are women.

Open World plans to host 2,600 Russians this year on visits focusing on economic development, education reform, the environment, federalism, health, women as leaders, and youth issues, in addition to the rule of law.

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