Bit by Byte, Law Brings Freedom, cont.

When war scars a nation, communication becomes a commodity that is as vital as water and electricity; its ebb and flow, as with water and electricity, can restore dignity and bring hope. That’s what Major discovered in the summer of 1996, when she made her first trip to Bosnia.

At that time, in conjunction with her teaching fellowship at Villanova, Major was director of operations at Villanova’s Center for Information Law and Policy, a think tank dedicated to exploring the intersection of law and technology. It was exploring how the school could lead global efforts to modernize legal systems. The opportunity to put theory into practice came in January 1996, right after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, when law professors from the University of Sarajevo, sponsored by the American Bar Association, visited Villanova.

“They came to see what we were doing at the law school,” said Major, “and we gave them almost a day-long presentation on different innovative ways of using technology in the classroom and facilitating communication. They were very impressed, but at the end of the day, they sat back and said, ‘How can this really help us? We just got finished with a war; we don’t even have a physical school to go back to; our library has been completely destroyed.’ Anything that could facilitate the flow of information—telephone systems, printing presses, post offices—had been bombed. And we were sort of standing there, and Professor Perritt, who had given the presentation on law and policy, picked up his laptop computer and thrust it at them and said, ‘Here!’ ”

The Sarajevo professors returned home with three laptops, a new Internet homepage for their law school, and a promise of help in the development of an Internet-based legal information infrastructure for Bosnia. Thus Project Bosnia, a concerted effort to use modern information technology to help rebuild the rule of law and civil society in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was born. From 1996 to 2000, April Major served as manager and faculty director of both Project Bosnia and its successor, the Global Democracy Project.

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Photo: John Kish IV