Professor David Pimentel is working in Bosnia and Herzegovina this year on a Fulbright Scholarship. Pimentel, who has extensive experience studying judicial systems and reforms around the world, is analyzing the effectiveness of those efforts in developing nations – many of which he helped initiate more than eight years ago.
His work will give the U.S. State Department, as well as international aid organizations, a realistic and timely perspective of reform policy in post-war areas. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan could be the first to benefit from the research.
“By the time I started my academic career at Florida Coastal in 2007, I had become somewhat skeptical about the impact of these reform efforts ó many of which seemed rooted in cultural perspective of donor nations,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel’s first trip to the area was in 2002, when he worked on a project funded by the Norwegian government to help reform the court system in post-war Bosnia. He stayed on to lead another project funded by the Agency for International Development to restructure the court system in Bosnia. That work was followed by similar court reform research and reform in Romania and Southern Sudan, where he headed the Rule of Law efforts for the United Nations.
“They wanted to see the judiciaries of the post-conflict or developing nations reformed to look more like their own,” he said.
Pimentel published an article called ìRule of Law Reform without Cultural Imperialism,î in which he questioned the concept.
Other academics, specifically Rosa Brooks at Georgetown University, have raised similar questions. In his Fulbright proposal, he suggested a research project that would examine the post-war judicial reforms in Bosnia to see if any had achieved their intended goals eight to 10 years later.
“These include some of the reforms I worked on personally, so I am well acquainted with the goals, the project, the reforms and the people involved,” he said. “So last time I came as a reform worker and this time Iím coming as an academic — with an inquiry into the effectiveness of the rule of law reform in this post-conflict society.”
While his academic discoveries in Bosnia are far from over, Pimentel wonders if it is possible for Western reforms to ever take root in developing countries.
“This comes as a surprise to some, just as many were surprised that American-style democracy was not enthusiastically embraced in Iraq,” he said. “But a legal system – a judicial system – is deeply rooted in cultural institutions and expectations.”
Pimentel said the return to Bosnia has been a personally rewarding experience for his family, as well. The four oldest Pimentel children went to Bosnian public schools in Sarajevo in 2002. This time, the three youngest children are “discovering the wonders of this beautiful city.” The family is also learning the Bosnian language.
“The Bosnian people are very warm and friendly which makes this cultural experience very rewarding,” Pimentel said. “Much of the anti-American sentiment that prevails around the world does not exist in Sarajevo. Indeed, it was the intervention of the Americans that brought the war to an end, and the Bosnians remember this.”
Pimentel will also be lecturing at the University of Sarajevo as part of his visit.