November 2013

Iraq Access to Justice Program Grantee Successfully Advocates for Policy Change

In February, the Minister of Displacement and Migration issued a ministerial circular (Tamim) correcting his Ministry’s policy in the allocation of the $3,400 assistance payment given to returnees. This change comes as the result of an intervention by the Access to Justice Program, through its partner orga¬nization Mercy Hands for Humanitarian Aid. This policy change has the potential to significantly impact the nearly 70,000 refugees who returned to Iraq last year. The Tamim was issued after a woman was only awarded half of the cash assistance payment because of her status as a single woman with no children. The woman is financially responsible for caring for her mother and father — both of whom should be considered as her dependents. When she approached the Mercy Hands legal clinic for advice, the clinic’s legal team researched the matter and provided her with the legal justification necessary to file an appeal. The Ministry denied her appeal to be deemed head of household, on the grounds that she had already received (partial) payment. The Ministry considered the matter closed and would not consider her appeal. The Mercy Hands legal clinic brought this woman’s case directly before the Minister. After reviewing the case with his legal department, the Minister decided to award the full amount and issued the circular to change the policy for future cases. From now on, women in similar situa¬tions will be awarded the full amount.

October 2013

Kabul University Hosts Its First-Ever Career Fair for Law and Sharia Students

Developing a career is as much about whom you know as what you know. However, networking can seem like a challenge for those entering the job market. Students at Kabul University recently received a boost in their job searches when the university held its first-ever career fair to introduce soon-to-be graduating students from its Law and Sharia faculties to potential employers in justice sector organizations and institutions. Over 450 students attended the event and met with representatives of over twenty Afghan government ministries, private law firms and international organizations, including USAID.

USAID’s Afghanistan Rule of Law Stabilization Program - Formal Component sponsored the career fair and conducted a   series of workshops for students on resume writing, networking strategies and interviewing skills leading up to the event in order to help them make the most of the opportunity. The day began with a panel discussion from legal professionals from all walks of life including a judge, defense attorney, legal advisor, professor, prosecutor, Fulbright Scholar, legal intern, and an advisor from the Administrative Stage, a four-month training program for court clerks. The panelists discussed their career paths, offered advice on achieving a fulfilling legal career and answered questions from students.

Students then spent the afternoon visiting the booths of potential employers, putting a face with their resume. The students shook hands, asked questions, received giveaways, and submitted job applications. Zarlasht Stanikzai, a fifth year law student who studies at night, described the benefits of the career fair: “Previously, I knew of jobs at a few ministries, such as the Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Justice, and a few donor organizations. At the fair, I learned about many other organizations where I might be able to find a potential employment in the future.”

Ahmad Shekib, another fifth year law student, saluted the fair for its novel approach to career development. “A career fair is a new way of finding jobs in Afghanistan,” he said. “Such events provide good direction for students about to graduate by helping them to match their interests with available job opportunities.” USAID supports career fairs in order to encourage Law and Sharia students to continue their interest pursuing legal service and advocacy in support of the rule of law after they graduate.

October 2013

Tt DPK Partners with Counterpart International to Implement the Ba Distrito Program in Timor Leste

In partnership with Counterpart International, Tetra Tech DPK recently began implementing the USAID-funded Ba Distrito Program in Timor Leste. Meaning “To the Districts,” the Ba Distrito Program will work toward further decentralization of governance into rural areas of the country and toward development of local legal aid and judicial systems. The result should be increased local involvement in policy making, improved linkages between the center and the periphery, and better access to justice and legal remedies when rights are violated. Tt DPK will focus on promoting legal aid and improving the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of judicial operations at the local level.

October 2013

Tt DPK Begins Implementation of USAID’s Inaugural Rule of Law Project in Myanmar

USAID awarded Tt DPK a three-year, $8 million task order under the Rule of Law IQC to promote and protect the rule of law and civil liberties in Myanmar.

Myanmar High Court Building

The Promoting the Rule of Law (PRL) Project will support development of a national rule of law strategy, more participatory and effective legislative drafting and policy making, strong judicial self-governance, and enhanced capacity of rule of law civil society organizations. The PRL Project will have a strong focus on enhancing rule of law in peripheral communities of Myanmar and building linkages between these communities and central governance and justice institutions.

September 2013

University Students Raise Awareness of Legal Rights and Responsibilities at Local High Schools

Suria Saadat can easily recall one of the most moving moments she had while teaching female students in Afghanistan. It was during a class about marriage law at Gulbahar High School, and all eyes were glued on Saadat as she explained to the students that according to Sharia law, boys and girls are allowed to meet each other before they are engaged to be married. The students were shocked.

“This is the first time we’ve heard this!” they exclaimed.

Saadat is a student herself at Afghanistan’s Al Biruni University and is a participant in a street law legal clinic program that aims to engage and educate high school students about their legal rights and responsibilities. Awareness of rule of law remains low among youth in Afghanistan, so 26 law students from Al Biruni, including Saadat, are participating in the legal clinic with technical and financial support of USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program - Formal Component.

The objective of the street law clinic is to engage students in discussions about contemporary legal issues and the ramifications of breaking the law. During the program, university students visit local high schools and help students understand the Afghan legal system. By demystifying the law, street law aims to help young people develop a positive attitude towards the justice system.

The chance to educate others about the law was the main reason Suria Saadat decided to participate in the clinic. “The opportunity to help my Muslim sisters become aware of their legal rights is among the many reasons this program is special for me,” said Saadat, who leads the clinic’s outreach to female high school students in Kapisa and Parwan provinces. “Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of the Constitution has caused lots of unrest and violence among families, particularly for women.”

Sadaat counts helping students find happiness through healthier relationships under the law as one of the most powerful parts of the legal clinic.

USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program - Formal Component supports practical training initiatives, such as legal clinics, moot court competitions, legal English training, and computer literacy programs for students like Suria Saadat in order to help them to develop the research and advocacy skills necessary to enter the legal profession in Afghanistan after their graduation.

August 2013

Clerks Trained to Improve the Efficiency and Transparency of Afghan Courts

In Afghanistan, court clerks are often the public’s first point of contact with the justice system. But until recently, the country’s fledgling judiciary was in need of a formal training program to help the clerks meet the needs of the people they serve. Take for instance, the case of Mohammad Osman. A court clerk in Kabul, Osman was often unsure how to process court cases.

“I did not know some of the important matters that had to be included in filing deeds,” Osman explained. “Therefore people used to return to court again and again.”

“I did not know some of the important matters that had to be included in filing deeds,” Osman explained. “Therefore people used to return to court again and again.”

Recognizing that first impressions are often lasting ones, on July 1, 2013, in partnership with USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component, which is implemented by Tetra Tech DPK, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan began the first-ever professional training program for the nation’s court clerks.

So far, 30 of the nation’s 800 clerks have enrolled in the charter class. During the four-month long Administrative Stage, clerks are being trained in their code of ethics, how to use the Afghanistan Court Administration System (ACAS), the country’s case management system, financial management, and how to interact with people who come to court.

“Court clerks play vital roles in ensuring justice in Afghanistan, and they need the best skills and practical experience to do so,” said Judge Mohammad Zaman Sangary, Head of the Narcotics Court, during the opening ceremony of the Administrative Stage. “This course has been designed to raise their qualifications to contribute to the public’s trust in the rule of law.”

Upon completion of the program, court clerks will emerge with a professional understanding of how to serve the public, proper court administration, knowledge of substantive laws, and improved ability to track and file cases. With the assistance of USAID and Tetra Tech DPK, the Supreme Court will steadily strengthen public confidence in the judiciary as a trusted institution for the resolution of legal disputes.

August 2013

Mullahs Receive Gender Justice Training

Belal Wardak was upset when he returned home from the mosque that Friday. In front of his entire family who had gathered at his Kabul home for the Eid holiday, the Afghan government employee took one look at his wife and became so overcome with emotion that he began to weep.

A religious sermon that Wardak had heard that afternoon had touched him and altered the way he viewed his wife. “I wondered to myself why I was seeing my wife as a servant, when she is really a person who shares similar rights with me,” Wardak later explained.

The words that inspired these thoughts were ones of equality and gender justice and were spoken by Mawlawi Azizullah, the local mullah or religious cleric. Azizullah had recently participated in a gender justice training program that was initiated by the Ministry of the Hajj and Legal Affairs, in coordination with USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component, which is implemented by Tetra Tech DPK.

Mullahs and religious elders in Afghanistan have the important social role of promoting education in their communities. Most communities in the country adhere to traditional cultures and customs that often ignore the rights afforded to women by Islamic law, Afghan statutory law, and international human rights. The training program aims to combat this by encouraging mullahs to raise public awareness about women’s rights.

In July, 45 mullahs, including Azizullah, received educational training through the program on prominent gender justice topics, including the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, inheritance rights, and marriage and divorce law. Most surprising to Azizullah during the training was learning that running away from home is not a crime under Afghan law.

“Before the training, I thought someone who left their home should be punished,” he said. “I thought on the cultural side, and not in legal terms. Arresting girls who run away from home is a bad custom in our country. Many young girls are faced with abusive and difficult family situations.”

The Ministry of the Hajj and Legal Affairs, with USAID assistance, aims to continue to encourage other mullahs to use their positions of respect to promote women’s rights in their communities.

July 2013

Drama Promotes the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women

The conversation took place at a cobbler’s stall in a busy Afghan market.

It may have seemed like an unusual location to talk about women’s rights, but that’s exactly what was discussed among the men and women who gathered there. Domestic abuse, the exclusion of women from education, and baad, the traditional Pashtun practice of trading young girls to settle family disputes were all part of the conversation.

At one point, an Afghan woman pointed out, “If someone commits violence against a girl or women, he can be jailed for up to three months…the law has punishments for such people.”

The woman’s message was intended to reach a much wider audience than just the market stall. Actually, there was no market stall at all. The entire conversation took place among actors and is part of a radio drama called “Qanon Qanon Ast,” or “Law is Law.” With support from USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component, implemented by Tetra tech DPK, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, and the Ministry of Justice, “Law is Law” aims to increase awareness about the importance of gender equality in Afghanistan.

In a country that has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, radio is common source for news and information in Afghanistan. An estimated 77 percent of Afghans listen to the radio, according to a survey by the Asia Foundation, making it the most frequently accessed communication medium in the country and the best way to spread the word about women’s rights.

The production of the radio drama, which will air nationally in August and September of 2013, highlights USAID’s goal of transferring the role of development to government institutions to sustainably implement reforms within Afghanistan. By promoting the legal rights of women on the radio, these Afghan justice institutions are demonstrating their commitment and willingness to cooperate in fostering a society that is ready and able to enforce existing law and the constitutional rights of women in Afghanistan.

July 2013

On-Campus Computer Lab Helps Female Students

Fereshta Abbasi has a new tool, one that her fellow female law students at Herat University, in western Afghanistan, will also benefit from. Abbasi competed in the 2013 Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition for Herat University, and as a member of the winning team will be representing her country at the upcoming International Round in Washington D.C.

Fereshta Abbasi has a new tool, one that her fellow female law students at Herat University, in western Afghanistan, will also benefit from. Abbasi competed in the 2013 Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition for Herat University, and as a member of the winning team will be representing her country at the upcoming International Round in Washington D.C.

The new tool is a computer lab with an internet connection.

For many students at law and shari'a faculties in Afghanistan, online access is a luxury. Herat University recently took a major step towards changing this and empowering its female students with the inauguration of a new computer lab.

Abassi is looking forward to using the lab and exploring the connectivity of the internet as she prepares for the upcoming competition. “If I want to research an issue, I can get ideas from lawyers from other countries,” she said. “I will be able to access many more perspectives.”

The new lab contains 14 computers with internet connections, as well as printers, desks, chairs, and other office equipment provided by USAID’s Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component, and implemented by Tetra Tech DPK, which works to expand the availability of legal education in Afghanistan by building the capacity of students and professors at all law and shari'a faculties in the county.

“This computer lab provides facilities for our female students to do legal research, find necessary sources online, and communicate with fellow students all over the country and world,” said Dean Abdul Rouf Saqib at the lab’s opening ceremony.

Female students unable to attend off-campus computer classes will also be able to take classes at the lab.

USAID, through its Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component, supports the development of well-equipped and professionally managed computer labs and law libraries at universities across Afghanistan in order to provide students with the tools to develop their practical skills and prepare them to enter the justice sector after graduation.

June 2013

Afghan Judges Attend Conference of the International Association of Women Judges

Observational learning is an important part of professional development. However, many justice sector professionals in Afghanistan work in an environment where the idea of visual learning is a relatively new concept and many judges, especially women, lack the opportunities and resources to pursue such educational experiences. In light of this, USAID’s Formal Rule of Law Program recently sponsored five members of the Afghan Women Judges Association (AWJA) to attend the 2013 Regional Conference of the International Association of Women Judges and study tour in New Zealand. The 10-day program was a valuable opportunity to build the judges’ professional capacities by engaging in legal discussions and observing their fellow female judges in action.

At the Conference, the Afghan women judges engaged with 130 other women judges from over twenty countries from the Asia-Pacific region to explore issues of common concern including, human rights, sex-trafficking and the environment. The women also participated in discussion panels and workshops on developing training and educational curricula on topics such as discrimination and violence against women.

As part of their educational experience, the judges spent several days visiting several courts including the New Zealand Supreme Court to observe their peers actively serving on the bench to deliver justice. While on this trip, the Afghan judges were highly impressed by the level of respect and humane treatment that judges afforded criminals appearing before their court. So much so that the Director of the AWJA, Judge Anisa Rasouly, remarked on how the eye-opening experience has inspired her to return to Afghanistan with a renewed vigor to propose reforms to the Afghanistan Supreme Court which will advocate for fairer treatment of prisoners.

The experience of the Afghan women judges and their eagerness to introduce the best practices that they observed in New Zealand to their own country proves the old adage: “There’s no education quite like the lessons of travel."

USAID’s RLS-Formal program works closely with the Supreme Court to strengthen their knowledge of legal issues, to develop the organizational capacity of the AWJA to advocate on behalf of women judges and to inspire other young Afghan women to enter careers in the judiciary.

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