Lexington, VA • Wednesday, July 23, 2008
On Monday, July 14, a truck carrying a shipping container backed up to the loading dock at the Washington and Lee University School of Law. One hour and 30,000 pounds later, the container began a 7 week, 5000 mile journey to Monrovia, Liberia loaded with law books donated by the School and its students.
Established in 1822 as a home for freed American slaves, Liberia retained many American traditions, including a legal system based on Anglo-American common law. But a fourteen year civil war between 1989 and 2003 saw the destruction of the West African nation's economy, infrastructure and legal system.
The bulk of the donated books will help restore the once thriving National Law Library, maintained by the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA). As part of the library system, the books will serve as a resource for judges, practitioners and law students alike. Other books are going to the Liberian Law School library, and the books donated by W&L students will go directly to the Student Bar Association of the Liberian Law School.
The driving force behind the donation was Thomas H. Speedy Rice, one of the law school's professors of practice, whose work in international human rights and legal reform takes him all over the world, including Viet Nam, Serbia, Algeria, Lebanon, and most recently to a meeting with the Taiwanese President. At W&L, Professor Rice oversees students working in the International Law Practicum projects in Cambodia and Liberia.
"Liberia is one of the few nations where American law books and American legal assistance is directly relevant," said Professor Rice. "In particular, law books are essential in Liberia because the country lacks the infrastructure and economy to take advantage of technology that reduces the need for books."
The donation was organized by Professor Rice as an outgrowth of the School's involvement in Liberia through the International Law Practicum. Students in this practice-based class are working with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to establish a human rights course and conduct legal aid training programs in Liberia. Students will visit Liberia as part of this course during both semesters this academic year, and a recent graduate, Juliette Syn '08, will serve as an in-country representative, helping support and promote the program within the Liberian legal community.
The book shipment, which includes several annual volumes of the Federal Reporter, Federal Supplement, and Supreme Court Reports among other miscellaneous resources, amounts to a donation of roughly $75,000. This includes a donation from Professor Rice for the shipping container and other associated fees.
The books will depart the Port of Norfolk on Aug. 10 and arrive in Liberia a month later, traveling as part of an aid program sponsored by a rubber supplier for Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire Co. The Firestone Natural Rubber Company, which has been operating in Liberia since 1926, is actively involved in rebuilding the country's infrastructure. As part of its Donation Cargo Program, the company makes empty space on its ships available to non-profit organizations to transport qualified aid shipments to Africa.