MLAA is providing legal advice, mediation, and court representation for vulnerable populations in the Ayeyarwady region, as well as raising awareness and advocating to protect human rights and promote the rule of law.
When Aung Moe*, a 14-year old disabled boy in a remote village, was charged with robbery, the Mahawthada Legal Aid Association (MLAA) stepped in to protect his human rights. Aung Moe had been jailed without bail for two months and was facing a prison sentence when the MLAA lawyers filed a petition with the court on July 20, 2017. He was released on bail on August 1st. After further investigation and support from the legal aid lawyers, the judge found that Aung Moe, who was born with malformation of his arms, was not guilty. With support from MLAA, the young boy avoided a criminal record and further violation of his rights.
MLAA is a civil society organization working in the Ayeyarwady region to protect the human rights of local citizens and to increase legal literacy. The Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) awarded a grant to MLAA, allowing its lawyers to provide free legal aid services, conduct awareness raising activities, and advocate for the rule of law.
MLAA has also supported farmers and local citizens in land rights cases. The legal aid lawyers were successful in gaining review of a decision denying local villagers access to farm land that had been abandoned by the government. The MLAA lawyers analyzed the facts, collected documents from farmers, and interviewed witnesses. They filed a complaint with the Ayeyarwady Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Breeding and Irrigation. In response, the Minister organized a commission to review the case. The chairman of the district land management office visited the area and collected information for the re-adjudication of this matter. MLAA exposed a lack of transparency and failure to comply with legal requirements for public notice and response.
MLAA lawyers also represented Kyint*, a woman whose human rights were violated when she was wrongfully detained in jail for 18 days on criminal charges. Kyint alleged the charges were the result of police corruption. After MLAA filed a complaint with the Ayeyarwady Regional Ministry of Social and Security Affairs requesting investigation, two policemen were disciplined.
Grant funding and technical assistance from PRLP is building the practical skills of lawyers to assist vulnerable populations in obtaining justice. This assistance protects human rights by increasing awareness and access to justice. Local citizens are empowered to advocate for the rule of law and demand a fairer and efficient justice system in Myanmar.
Legal Services Improve for Persons with Disabilities at Amman Public Prosecution Department
Ahmad, a visually impaired 29 year old professional working at an IT company, recently spoke about his personal experience using the newly upgraded facilities at the Amman Public Prosecution Office (APPO) for people with disabilities (PWDs). “When I first used the Braille visual guidance boards to find my way through the waiting hall and different offices, I felt a great deal of independence to access legal services at APPO,” he recalls. “When I used to come to [the] Amman Palace of Justice and APPO, I faced very embarrassing moments when I had to ask people for assistance in direction. People would start giving directions to left and right, not considering that this was not helpful given my visual impairment. Now, with accessing the visual board using Braille method, I can move freely and independently to my required destination!”
According to a recent report titled, “Distribution of Private Households with Members Facing Difficulties in Body Functions Report”, there were an estimated 598,138 PWDs living in Jordan in 2015. This number comprised approximately 12% of the total Jordanian population. It is a segment of the population that scarcely benefits from legal services in Jordan. Of the 367,315 cases litigated in Jordan in 2015, less than 1% involved PWDs. This indicates that access to justice for PWDs is limited and should be subject to further investigation and support.
According to a Rule of Law Program (ROLP) study titled “Persons with Disabilities Access to Justice in Jordan”, there are currently no possible means to establish an accurate representation of persons with disabilities’ demand on the court system. However, there is strong evidence that such demand is limited for various reasons mentioned by the report-sampling PWDs group, including fear of stigma, fear of discrimination, expectations of inappropriate treatment, income, social situation, lack of accessibility, and accommodation limitations.
In response to the challenges and barriers within the court system, as provided by the ROLP study findings, USAID, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, considered accurate measures for improving facilities for PWDs at the Amman Palace of Justice (APOJ) and Public Prosecution Department. The improvement measures suggested sought to ensure that PWDs had access to the court system, information and communications, public facilities, and legal services. Improvements in these areas will also lead to accelerating the processing times for legal requests and procedures. Activities included installing over fifty Braille visual guidance boards for persons with visual impairment at the APPO and APOJ that provide access to information for required services, providing designated space for wheelchairs in the courtroom, renovating rest rooms that accommodate PWDs needs, case files in Braille method, and sign language interpretation.
Ahmad started spreading the good news of the new improvements at APOJ and APPO to other visually impaired people in his community, and encouraged them to come and try the new facilities when they need to access legal services. “I believe a great segment of the Jordanian community is served now and this will enhance their integration within the whole community,” said Ahmad.
ROLP, in cooperation with the MOJ, will continue its planned support to improve judicial capacity to address human rights cases and lack of access to justice on behalf of the disadvantaged populations by reengineering departments across Jordanian courts and adequately equipping them for meeting the needs of PWDs.
JCSDO supports access to justice by raising community awareness, providing survivor support and protection, offering free legal aid, and holding justice sector actors accountable.
Earlier this year, a thirteen-year-old girl was welcomed into a community safe house operated by Jeepyah Civil Society Development Organization (JCSDO), a grantee of Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP). The girl had been raped by a villager in the Mon region while her parents were outside the home performing casual labor. One of the women’s groups formed by JCSDO learned of her case and referred her to the safe house, where she received shelter and counseling and was supported to be a witness at the trial. Although the perpetrator received a 9-year sentence at hard labor, he managed to escape from the labor camp and was only recently re-arrested and sent to prison.
While the perpetrator was at large, the girl remained at the safe house for her protection and further counseling. She was illiterate, having left school after only a few years of instruction, but she was able to improve her education and learn practical life skills during her time at the safe house. Now, she is a volunteer at the Mon State Women and Children’s Upgrade Centre (MSWCUC) and is continuing to expand her education and skills so that she will be able to make a life for herself as an adult.
JCSDO is improving access to justice by engaging local communities, providing safe spaces, offering free legal aid, and working to hold justice sector actors accountable. The overall objective of the JCSDO grant is to increase legal literacy, access to justice, and the participation of marginalized populations, including victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking in targeted regions/states. Their assistance includes training paralegals to provide free legal advice and referral services, and providing free legal aid/court representation to clients.
The safe house is providing shelter, basic needs, counseling services, and legal advice for up to 8 clients at a time. JCSDO expects to serve at least 24 clients during the one-year grant period. Additionally, JCSDO will publish a report of relevant access to justice challenges based on their experience in the region. The report will be in multiple languages and distributed to key justice stakeholders in Mon State to further advocacy efforts and encourage collaboration. These activities are supporting the goals of PRLP to increase access to justice, particularly for marginalized populations in target regions.
Paralegals are conducting legal awareness sessions in villages, increasing knowledge of child rights and reducing discrimination against children.
Mhwe, a 12-year old girl from a small village in Yay Nan Chaung township, was raped by a man from her village. When Mhwe’s father learned of the rape, he made a complaint to the village administrator, who contacted the paralegal program offered by the Social Care Volunteer Group (SCVG) for assistance. Soe Khin, one of the SCVG paralegals supported the girl to report the crime to the police and coordinate with the local Department of Social Welfare (DSW) for assistance.
Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) is supporting efforts to improve access to justice through a grant to SCVG to implement a program that protects the human rights of children in the Magwe region. SCVG is increasing awareness of children’s rights and child protection measures, and the organizations has developed an intensive training course to provide paralegals with the skills to assist children and increase access to justice. After a recent regional three-day training provided by SCVG, the paralegal volunteers began conducting awareness training on child abuse and human rights in their own villages. These sessions will reach at least 300 villagers to understand more about the rights of children, how to protect them, and how to access justice sector services.
Compared to similar cases before these initiatives, there was little knowledge of rights and no support system for victims. Due to a lack of psychological and legal support services at that time, a victim of rape from Mhwe’s same village had to move away from the village. Now, however, thanks to SCVG and the paralegals, Mhwe has found not only legal assistance, but support from the community. The increased understanding from these legal awareness sessions is reducing discrimination against and shaming of children. The paralegals have even reported that village elders are lending their support to Mhwe and other children whose rights have been abused. The village elders’ support serves as a strong incentive for other community members to change their attitudes and offer support that can change children’s lives.
With grant funding, SCVG is also providing child victims with psychological support, legal advice, and assistance to travel to court and testify. SCVG is also monitoring court cases with the support of paralegal volunteers and the DSW to identify and address rights violations. Tetra Tech’s PRLP support is enhancing the rule of law and protecting human rights for people in Myanmar while also building the capacity of civil society to support vulnerable groups, such as children.
Using a community based approach, IDEA legal watch groups provide advocacy and legal advice that protects farmers from prosecution.
Land disputes can be one of the most dangerous and costly issues for the public. In Myanmar, there are significant disputes about land ownership and cultivation of land by rural farmers. Particularly in Shan State, farmers have faced difficulties raising crops -- including corn, sugarcane and beans -- on land the government claims is confiscated.
With grant support from Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA) has been implementing community-based legal service initiatives in Nawnghkio and Taunggyi in Northern and Southern Shan State since May 2017. Using a community based approach, IDEA is improving legal literacy, providing legal consultation, and offering victim assistance. IDEA utilizes local legal watch groups to develop and sustain their support.
IDEA is engaging with officials from the Agriculture Department to protect vulnerable farmers from prosecution for cultivation on confiscated land in Nant Linn Kham village of Nawnghkio. Farmers were cultivating crops in deserted areas confiscated by the Department in 1993-1994. A previous government crop project had ended unsuccessfully on land that belonged to the farmers’ ancestors. The farmers believed they had indigenous rights to cultivate the land, but the Agriculture Department issued an order for farmers to vacate these areas.
Ten farmers from the village were given 16-month jail sentences for farming on confiscated property. IDEA supported the farmers by submitting an appeal to the Shan State Supreme Court to reduce the jail terms. With help from IDEA, three of them had their sentences reduced by 7 months.
The IDEA legal watch group is working to raise awareness among farmers to ensure that they understand land ownership rights and to prevent them from inadvertently farming on government property. IDEA raises awareness among the farmers about how to seek requisitions from the government that allow them to farm the land without risking prosecution.
With a better understanding of the process, the farmers are now seeking support from the IDEA legal staff to submit requests and gain permission to legally farm this land. This valuable assistance is protecting farmers from incarceration and lawsuits, while also allowing them to have sufficient income to provide for their families. Support from PRLP is building the capacity of civil society organizations, such as IDEA, to improve public advocacy and promote access to justice. This support is particularly critical when dealing with land disputes and the welfare of farmers.
GPI assisted more than 2,500 people from 460 farming households to obtain the legal right to farm village land and enhance their livelihoods.
Farmers in Magyizin village in Pathein have often lost their indigenous rights to cultivate land due to urbanization, government projects, and confiscation by the military and entrepreneurs. Access to justice for these farmers is limited by their lack of legal knowledge and sufficient resources to enforce their rights. With grant support from Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), the Green Peasant Institute (GPI) has trained 14 paralegals in Pathein, who were selected from the local population. Once trained, the paralegals shared their legal knowledge and led discussions about land issues with 69 farmers as part of their awareness raising activities.
GPI is coordinating with partners such as Land Core Group and Namati to further expand their technical expertise. Namati organized a National Paralegal Network in Myanmar last year using a grassroots approach. GPI is also conducting advocacy activities with governmental units such as the Village Group Administration, Forestry, Land Registration and Agriculture Departments. To be more effective, GPI engaged union and regional members of parliament (MPs) for their support.
GPI helped the farmers submit proposals to the relevant regional ministries requesting permission to farm the village land. As a result, more than 2,500 people from 460 farming households in 8 villages were granted legal rights to approximately 25 acres (10 hectares) of land. The rights were granted based on laws that allow access to vacant, fallow, and virgin land.
GPI continues to train paralegals who will offer legal consultation and advice to an estimated 120 cases through their new legal aid center in Pathein. The experience gathered from these cases will also inform advocacy efforts to reform laws and procedures. GPI is also conducting coordination meetings and legal awareness workshops between paralegals, clients, and land management committees to enhance access to justice services.
Through their grants program, PRLP is providing technical assistance and capacity development to help local communities promote more effective, accountable, and accessible justice sector institutions. This will increase legal literacy and access to justice, and support marginalized populations in target states and regions. With this support, PRLP is helping local civil society organizations to develop their capacity to engage in public policy development and advocacy.
Arwa Ruwashid is one of several JSAP interns recently hired by project counterparts
As a testament to the success of the INL-funded Justice Sector Assistance Project (JSAP) internship program, former project intern, Arwa Ruwashid, is one of several JSAP interns that was recently offered a position at a counterpart justice sector institution after serving with the project.
Arwa notes that she landed her “dream job” after serving as a project intern at the Dura Public Prosecution Office for one year. “My work as an intern prepared me for this position as it provided me with the proper training and background, which in the end, saved the Public Prosecution Office the time and effort of training a completely new employee to the system,” stated Arwa. She now fills a long-term permanent position as a Warrant Execution Officer at the Hebron Public Prosecution Office. As a Warrant Execution Officer, she follows-up on execution of criminal case verdicts issued by the courts and addresses issues and challenges faced by Execution Officers.
Arwa thanked the JSAP program for helping launch her career, noting, “My professional start and the introduction provided to me by the JSAP program helped prepare me for this position which I consider to be an ideal job since securing a full-time job in this day and age is almost a dream.” She added, “The period that I served as an intern truly contributed to both my personal and professional development. I gained successful working relationships with my Public Prosecution colleagues and I learned valuable team building skills.”
Nash’at Ayoush, the Dura Chief Prosecutor praised the former intern’s skills and qualifications. “Since the beginning of her appointment in the Public Prosecution Office, Arwa demonstrated her legal ability and commitment to her work. She exercised efficient administrative and legal skills which allowed her to carry out the mandated work quickly, competently and in accordance with legal procedures. The primary reason Arwa was selected for this position is her knowledge of the laws and her high ability to conduct proper legal classification and preparation of legal briefs in accordance with the law,” said the Chief Prosecutor.
“I am proud to have been a part of the JSAP internship team which helped plant the seeds for my success,” said Arwa.
JSAP interns Dana Bei’rat and Fida’ Abu Ali have also been offered one-year contracts at the Security Forces Justice Commission. Other justice sector leaders have also noted their interest in hiring JSAP interns for long-term positions upon openings.
Legal Advisor from IDEA Helps Rural Family Gain Access to Justice
A thankful mother and sister-in-law rejoice at having their family member released from custody and home again in the Shan State village of Yay Pu.
Thanks to the grant awarded to the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA) by USAID and managed by Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP), families in rural communities like Yay Pu are able to receive legal counsel and representation. Formed in 2012 to focus on rural development, social cohesion, and human rights, IDEA is working to improve access to justice for marginalized people in Nawnghkio and Taunggyi by providing legal literacy training, monitoring formal and informal justice sector processes, and offering legal representation.
A young legal aid lawyer working with IDEA showed great enthusiasm for her work and legal prowess in settling the case for the family in Yay Pu. Before the legal aid lawyer got involved, the family had made at least 12 long and costly trips to the court, but with her representation the case was resolved in less than 2 months. Initially, the family members and villagers were reluctant to work with the lawyer because of her age. However, after they saw her encourage her clients by saying, “You should not be worried too much; I will try my best to help," they realized she was capable and dedicated to her work.
The family members had first learned about the lawyer through village awareness meetings conducted by IDEA. Before attending these awareness sessions, they knew very little about their legal rights and court procedures. Since receiving legal support through IDEA, the family has expressed how these sessions improved the overall life in their village. They have noticed that people are more aware of their rights and responsibilities and some illegal behavior has stopped.
Although a nationwide legal aid law has been recently enacted, it will take time to implement. The lack of legal assistance disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people, especially in remote regions. Thanks to the USAID grant program, many people in rural areas are now being supported and the justice sector is more accessible.
Snapshot on Tetra Tech’s support of Jamaican Drug Rehabilitation Program
Under Jamaica’s Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, the Drug Treatment Court (DTC) has sought to reduce the number of crimes linked to drug abuse by providing treatment and regular monitoring for drug-dependent offenders and supporting them to function as law-abiding citizens.
In June 2016, Tetra Tech’s Community Empowerment and Transformation Project Phase II (COMET II) partnered with the DTC Rehabilitation Program to support a workforce development program to enroll participants in skills training courses such as digital animation, auto mechanics, or remedial courses in secondary matriculation exams.
One participant, 36-year old Probean Champaignie, proves it is never too late to turn around , no matter how far down the ‘wrong’ path one may be.
Even after attending his first courses, Champaignie says he resisted the opportunity to succeed. “At first, I was telling myself, ‘this is not for me, I don’t need any help. I’m bigger than this.”
Champaignie was referring to his participation in the DTC Rehabilitation program. In 2015, Champaignie ended up in the Resident Magistrate’s Court after being involved in a serious fight; an incident he now deeply regrets; “I didn’t think I needed any help, but looking back now, I see that I was wrong. The program helped me to quit drinking, and I learned how to manage conflict.”
Champaignie enrolled in the program’s auto mechanics course, certified by Jamaica’s HEART Trust National Training Agency, which was implemented by Cornerstone Ministries, a vocational and technical training school. He completed Levels 1 and 2 and will be advancing to Level 3 in an on-the-job-certification course. The father of three and valedictorian at his graduation from the DTC program in December 2016, Champaignie made such a strong impression, that he was offered the position of a Level 1 Auto Mechanics instructor at Cornerstone Ministries.
“We were so impressed that when one of our instructors resigned, we decided to offer him the position. He did not even know how to turn on a computer when he first came here. But since then, he has not failed a single assessment. Now that he is working with high risk students, his character stands out in how he manages the guys and they respect him”, says the Executive Director at Cornerstone Ministries, Marjorie Gowdy.
Champaignie admits that he enjoys being able to pass on knowledge to and earn the respect of his students. “By me becoming their teacher, it has encouraged them. Some of them tell me, ‘sir, I want to walk in your shoes, I want to be like you ’.”
In the future, Champaignie intends to complete more advanced levels in auto mechanics and possibly expand into other sectors. “My goal is to go into aviation. I also want to open a garage. I envision it as a multi-purpose complex where we have a car wash, auto-body work, and a parts shop as well”.
Snapshot on How Tetra Tech is Building Civil Society Capacity to Engage in Public Policy
Through a grant to the Integrated Development Executive Association (IDEA), Tetra Tech’s Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) is building the capacity of civil society to engage in public policy development and advocacy. On October 21, 2017, IDEA conducted an advocacy consultation meeting with State-level Members of Parliament (MPs). Fifteen MPs and IDEA members discussed findings of civil society organizations (CSOs) and technical stakeholders to develop solutions for current community challenges. Media representatives from Thanlwin Thwee Chin Journal, Shwe Maung Journal, the People’s Voice Journal, and MRTV/NRC also attended the event.
During the event, the director of IDEA presented findings from their project, entitled Community Based Legal Service Initiatives (CBLSI), which illustrated the impact of language barriers on access to justice, the lack of legal knowledge, and the need for legal aid, especially in land and environmental cases. Recommendations from CSOs and technical stakeholders included conducting awareness training, enhancing communication and collaboration between Government and local communities, incorporating basic legal knowledge in High School curriculum, and conducting public consultations and engaging legal experts when drafting laws. U Khin Maung Myint, a state level MP, noted that “It is not easy to sustain the rule of law, and everyone should collaborate to find solutions.”
IDEA also discussed the need for both technical and legal experts in the legal drafting process, especially for specialized topics, such as land law. During a group discussion, the participants agreed on the need for MPs to facilitate more community awareness, as well as to participate in legal training sessions. The group also discussed the importance of using plain language to help farmers understand existing land tenure laws. To address ethnic language issues, they suggested using cartoons to explain laws and procedures.
As a result of this advocacy consultation, MPs committed to present the legal issues and needs of these communities to Union level representatives. MPs also agreed to participate in future IDEA events to learn more about community challenges and legal findings from the project. This type of collaborative advocacy is helping Myanmar be more inclusive, accountable, and responsive to the public and develop the rule of law, especially in rural communities.