Cartoon from Paraguay depicting child and grim reaper

Can an American university empower legal professionals in another country to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law?

It’s a challenge two institutes at the University of Notre Dame recently took on in Paraguay as part of a larger push to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and promote a culture of integrity among politicians and the judiciary.

The Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Pulte Institute for Global Development collaborated with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative to organize an August workshop series for Paraguayan legal professionals on issues related to the rule of law – the principle that no person is above a country’s legal regulations.

During eight virtual sessions, presenters from across Latin America addressed a range of topics meant to help participants administer the law equally and fairly and confront challenges to the rule of law. The workshop offerings included classes on non-discrimination, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.

Approximately 120 members of the Paraguayan legal community – public officials, judges, law clerks, prosecutors, lawyers, and law students – attended each session.

Within the Kellogg Institute, the workshops were a project of the Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law (CAROL) Lab.

“These workshops offered us a new kind of opportunity to take the longstanding interest and scholarly work of some of Kellogg's faculty fellows, with the support of the Pulte Institute, and help it acquire a more immediately actionable effect on strengthening the rule of law,” said Kellogg Director Paolo Carozza. “We hope that their success will help us develop more initiatives that combine high-level academic output with practical educational and policy impact.”

Both Kellogg and Pulte are part of the Keough School of Global Affairs. The workshops drew from Kellogg’s expertise in democracy and human development and Pulte’s experience in implementing programs through policy and practice. Carozza noted that Kellogg’s CAROL Lab developed the content of the workshops at the request of – and with significant input from – its Paraguayan partners.

“The questions and needs that our Paraguayan interlocutors brought to the project were indispensable in our being able to answer real and immediate needs on the ground,” he said. 

The workshops were carried out within the framework of the Rule of Law and Culture of Integrity Program, which is implemented by Instituto Desarrollo. One of the goals of the Program is to strengthen the role of Paraguayan higher education institutions to improve the rule of law and culture of anti-corruption in Paraguay. The multi-year program was awarded to Notre Dame in 2020 and is managed by the Pulte Institute.

The Program is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In Paraguay, USAID focuses its activities on building a culture of lawfulness to tackle corruption by strengthening the rule of law, advancing a more formal economy, and improving civil society oversight of corruption. USAID's work also includes activities to empower communities to assess their needs and lead their own development journey at the grassroots level. 

USAID's highest-level strategy document for 2020-2025 states that: "Widespread corruption, perpetuated by impunity, is the number one impediment to Paraguay's development. Sustainable development requires all people and institutions to be subject and accountable to laws that are fairly applied and enforced. The Rule of Law levels the playing field for all citizens and businesses, and spurs licit competition and innovation."

Javier Contreras, rule of law expert for the Rule of Law and Culture of Integrity Program, described systemic corruption as a “huge” problem within Paraguay that hurts ordinary citizens, casts doubt on decisions made by courts, and impedes business growth.  

“In Paraguay, citizens are becoming aware of the importance of transparency and the fight against corruption. The issue is installed and there are several initiatives aimed at generating more transparency and anti-corruption,” he said. “Activities aimed at raising awareness and training judges and other operators of the justice system on the concept of the rule of law, its importance for the well-being of citizens and the evils generated by corruption are of the utmost importance. An independent and impartial justice is a decisive factor in the consolidation of the rule of law.”

Contreras said many legal professionals within historically-isolated Paraguay are eager to learn from other countries in which there are recognized good practices applied in the field of the rule of law. He noted that the workshops were well-received by participants, in part because their content was targeted to Paraguay’s legal system and in part because they were organized by a University of international prestige such as Notre Dame.

“Everything they said was applicable to our context,” he said, adding that this Program will use materials from the workshop to enrich future classes. “The enthusiasm of the course participants and the interest in receiving the information and opinions of the teachers was remarkable."

Edward Jurkovic, a program manager at the Pulte Institute, said the workshops were an example of multidisciplinary collaboration among numerous stakeholders – including, most importantly, Paraguayans who wanted to learn more about rule of law.

“It was a good example of making sure the needs and the requests of the people we were working for informed the decisions that we made,” he said. “One of our goals is to make sure that we have impactful programming that reflects and is informed by the needs of our beneficiaries, and I think this was a great success in that regard.”

Workshop presenters included Kellogg PhD Fellow Jorge Barrera, a Chilean public law attorney; Pablo González , a former Kellogg doctoral student and current staff attorney at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; former Kellogg PhD Fellow Pier Paolo Pigozzi, now a law professor at Universidad Finis Terrae in Chile; Johanna Frohlich, an assistant professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile’s Law School and an alumna of the Notre Dame Law School; Daisy Serrano, an expert in forensic science and criminal investigation; and Carmen Blanco, a lawyer and specialist in criminal investigation at Universidad de la Sabana.

Kellogg and CAROL Lab organizers noted that the program model may be adapted for use in other countries.