Stanford Law School Helps Develop a Strong Legal Education System in Kurdish Iraq

The legal systems of Iraq and its Kurdistan region have been a confusing hybrid of local, regional and federal laws and practices rooted in custom and religion. Despite major legal reforms in recent years, the region’s law school curriculum have not kept pace with these reforms and is outdated and impractical. Many textbooks date back to the 1970s and do not cover key recent developments in Iraqi and Kurdish law, such as the new constitution of 2005.

Fixing an outdated legal education system

Stanford Law School Helps Develop a Strong Legal Education System in Kurdish Iraq 1

Believing that a legal education system that accurately reflects a country’s rapidly evolving regulatory framework, and wider justice sector needs, is a key ingredient to a strong government and the rule of law, in 2012 Stanford Law School (SLS) launched the Iraq Legal Education Initiative (ILEI), a partnership between SLS and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Operating under the law school’s Rule of Law Program, ILEI aims to contribute to legal education reform in Iraqi Kurdistan through designing legal curricula that emphasize critical thinking and legal skills development.

This past spring, a delegation from SLS’s ILEI visited Sulaimania, Iraq, to work on legal curriculum development. During the 2017-2018 academic year, SLS students produced working papers that critically analyze the laws of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The SLS team visiting Sulaimania was comprised of Emily Alice Hawley, JD ’19, Brynne Sabina O’Neal, JD ’19, David Lee Wayne, JD’19, and Mehdi J. Hakimi, executive director of the Rule of Law Program and lecturer-in-law.

On-the-ground learning

To gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of the evolving Iraqi and Kurdish law and their application on the ground, the SLS team met with various key stakeholders in the KRG, including government officials, judges, scholars, local practitioners, and other legal experts. The team also met with the administration, faculty, and students at AUIS—ILEI’s implementing partner. ILEI’s working papers and publications form an integral part of the curriculum of the Legal Studies Program at AUIS.

Stanford Law School Helps Develop a Strong Legal Education System in Kurdish Iraq

“The encounter I most looked forward to was finally meeting Dr. Choman Hardi – the poet, activist, and scholar who solicited my paper on gender law,” said Hawley. “Dr. Hardi and her colleagues articulated their vision for AUIS’s gender center. Her colleagues ranged in specialization, from gender-based violence to public health. Together, we examined the shortcomings of law in practice but also its possibilities. I look forward to collaborating more with the team as I continue my research and writing.”

The Stanford team also collaborated with AUIS on developing a proposal to expand its existing Legal Studies Program into a full-fledged, degree-granting Bachelor of Arts and Laws program, a transition that SLS’s Rule of Law Program has successfully overseen at the American University of Afghanistan. Recognizing SLS’s work on legal education reform globally, the U.S. Department of State has supported SLS’s Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP) through multiple grants since 2010.

“Such experiential learning opportunities provide our SLS students with terrific exposure to applied comparative law and, more broadly, international development practice,” said Hakimi. “As the trip demonstrated, ILEI’s work contributes tangibly to much-needed and foundational legal education reform efforts in Iraq. And after each trip to Iraq, we return inspired and more energized by our incredible partners across the world.”

And, the work continues…

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ILEI will continue collaborating with Iraqi institutions and experts to develop innovative legal curricula for use at AUIS and beyond. ILEI’s publications are among the very first, and are still among the very few, to critically analyze Iraq’s post-2005 legal system. In addition to the region’s domestic laws, ILEI’s publications have examined relevant international law topics as well as legal methods. By the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, ILEI aims to expand its publications to twenty original, high-quality resources on Iraqi and Kurdish law.

Learn more about the SLS Iraq Legal Education Initiative

Learn more about the SLS Rule of Law program