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Using the Net to revive Bosnia's legal system

BOSNIA from F 1

Villanova law Professor Henry H. Perritt Jr., who is overseeing the project, said it stemmed from a visit to the university in January by two law Professors from the University of Sarajevo. Perritt instituted Villanova Law School's extensive legal-information site on the World Wide Web (, and in showing it to the Bosnian professors, they all began to wonder how Internet technology could be useful in Bosnia, he said.
Perritt then enlisted the help of several law students, led by Stuart Ingis, 25, of Moorestown. Together, they have traveled to Washington and New York to meet with U.S. and Bosnian officials to identify contacts in Bosnia, and define the hardware, software and training needs of judges, lawyers and law students.
"Our mission," said Ingis, "is to figure out where all the legal Institutions are, and get them connected to the Internet." That's a mammoth task, though, given that so much, of Ihe region's intrastructure - from telephone and other utility lines to roads - was targeted for destruction during four years of war, and that rival ethnic and religious factions remain suspicious of each other under a risky peace accord.
Even some of those who already use e-mail in the former Yugoslavia have been reluctant to participate in online discussions because "somebody could attack you, not only verbally, but physically," Eric Bachman, a Germany-based peace activist, said in a meeting at Villanova last week with 16 Project Bosnia participants. In 1992 Bachman, 47, helped found ZaMir Transnational Net, an e-mail-service for hundreds of peace activists in the Balkans who had no other means of exchanging uncensored infornuaion about the political Situation across hostile borders. ZaMir means "for peace" in Serbo-Croatian. Bachman was at Villanova to advise the Project Bosnia group on the benefits of - and obstacles to - their cause.
"I get upset about the hype that I see here [in the United States]" about the Internet, Bachman said in an interview. With only three telephone lines serving some parts of Bosnia, and just one Internet-linked host computer, at a university in Sarajevo, "Infrastructure is a very big problem, even before the war began.... This is something we forget about when thinking of other areas."
He told the group that, for the time being, when there is talk of bringing the Internet to the Public in Bosnia, "this public we're talking about right now is elite."
Still, he said, any effort to improve communications is going to help in the long run. "A free flow of Information is necessary for any growth or the resolution ol conflicts," he said.
Perritt and Ingis will travel to Bosnia in August to meet government and legal leaders and to assess how best to steer their effort. They believe the country's new ninejudge high court could use the Internnet to confer, and that the Internet could be used by monitors in elections scheduled for September. Their goal is not to impose American ideas, but to help the Bosnians restore their own "rule of law", said Ingis.
The legal System in Bosnia is patterned after the European "civil law" model, rather than on the "common law" that forms the basis of American justice, said Nicholas D. Mansfield, who heads the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative.
Considering the differences, he said, "we present as many options as we can, and not simply spoon-feed American ways of doing things." Mansfield's organization - a legal reform assistance project for former communist countries - has taken Project Bosnia under its wing.
"In all of the peacefull scenarios, there is a significant contribution that the Internet can make. ... It's only if they go back to war and ethnic cleansing that what we do will be irrelevant;" said Perritt.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 18. Juli 1996

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