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.

June 2013

Female Magistrate Elected Court President in DRC with ProJustice Support

Early this June, the High Judicial Council of the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to select a new president for the Boma Commercial Court in Bas-Congo Province. In a country where fewer than 5 percent of the members of the judiciary and only 2 percent of the heads of courts and prosecutors’ offices are female, it was almost certain that the council would select a man for the job.

But they didn’t. Thanks to her skills and experience and support from the USAID-sponsored ProJustice project, Marie Kitete Losamba beat the odds.

On June 1, the High Judicial Council (Counseil Superieur de la Magistrature, CSM) selected Losamba to become Boma Commercial Court’s new president. It was a great promotion for Losamba, who had previously been working as a judge in Kinshasa. Losamba was promoted based on her skills and experience, with ProJustice playing a critical role in opening a path towards advancement that had been blocked for many years.

“When we started this work in 2010, we were seeing very little progress,” Losamba explained. “Our partnership with ProJustice and USAID has allowed us to have our voices heard. It is a big step forward.”

The lack of female magistrates in a country like the DRC can be a vicious cycle, as it deters women from entering the profession because the chances of promotion and advancement are so unlikely. When fewer than 5 percent of judges are women, female perspectives are absent from the bench, where they are needed—particularly in light of the increasing numbers of cases of gender-based violence in the country.

In an effort to increase the odds for Congolese women, ProJustice partnered with the Congolese Association of Women Magistrates, and worked with the country’s High Court to pass key resolutions requiring the promotion of equally-qualified women in the magistracy, as well as creating space for women to have a permanent voice in the High Court. During its General Assembly of 2013, the High Judicial Council committed to having at least 30 percent women magistrates by the 2014 assembly.

June 2013

Iraq Access to Justice Program Supports IDP Rights

Among the estimated 2.8 million internally displaced persons (IDP) living in Iraq is a woman named Suha.

Suha originally came from the country’s northeastern Diyala Province, and now lives in Baghdad. For five years, she was married to a man who physically abused her and whom she could not escape. When Suha’s husband finally agreed to leave her, he refused to legally divorce her or provide any kind of financial support.

Because she was still legally married, Suha was unable to register with the Iraqi Women’s Affairs Directorate to obtain the state benefits she was entitled. Without any means of financial support, Suha’s life became one of desperation. When Suha tried to approach the court for a legal divorce, her estranged husband and his family threatened to kill her.

Tired of living in constant fear and acute poverty, Suha learned from other IDPs about Fatima House, a USAID Access to Justice Program-funded NGO located in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Fatima House helps educate Iraqi women about their legal rights and entitlements. After attending a workshop at Fatima House, Suha registered with the organization’s free legal clinic so she could pursue her divorce in a court of law.

Fatima Houses’s lawyers took Suha’s case before the courts and her estranged husband was issued a summons to appear before a judge. After several attempts to bring the husband to court, a judge annulled the marriage on the grounds that the husband had abandoned Suha for five years without going through the proper legal procedures.

The judgment represented Suha’s freedom from a violent marriage and it also opened doors for her to claim her rights and benefits from the state.

“Now I can finally start living my life,” Suha said.

Fatima House’s legal clinic is now working with Suha to help her claim the financial rights she is entitled to as a divorced woman, which should help get her back on her feet.

May 2013

Universities Agree to Governance Body to Lead Legal Education Reform

Legal educators in Afghanistan have never before come together to collectively discuss education reforms. This has hindered the ability of government officials and university faculty to identify common challenges to the education system and propose creative solutions. In May 2013, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) led a Symposium for all 19 Law/Sharia Faculties, where for the first time in the history of legal education in Afghanistan, representatives from universities, government and non-governmental institutions, and international donors engaged in a strategic dialogue on the future of legal education.

A key outcome of the Symposium was the establishment of a governance body for legal education, the Joint Coordination Committee. The Committee comprises of leading deans and professors from Law and Sharia faculties who will work to build cooperation between universities on system wide reforms.

Previously, policy decisions for legal education had been highly centralized with the MoHE and Kabul University. By including members from various universities across the country, the Committee aims to broaden the reform process, making it participatory and opening it to progressive and proven innovations occurring in universities throughout the country. Several such innovations gained traction at the Symposium, including a commitment to adopt a credit system for both Law and Sharia faculties and to refine the core curriculum to include more practical legal coursework, like legal clinic programs and moot court competitions which enhance the overall quality of a student’s legal education experience.

At the Symposium’s opening ceremony, Dean Iqrar Wasel of Kabul Law Faculty said: “I call on the audience of this symposium to focus on addressing our issues without involving politics, because it is firmly believed that without resolving this issue no investment in improving legal education in this country will bear fruit.” Judging from the bold steps taken by participants, the legal education community in Afghanistan answered the Dean’s call for unity to advance reforms.

USAID’s RLS-Formal program, which assisted the MoHE to plan and organize the Symposium, works to expand the availability of legal education in Afghanistan by building the capacity of Law and Sharia faculties across the country.

May 2013

Access to Justice Promotes Outreach and Advocacy in Iraqi Media

The USAID Access to Justice Program’s core aim is to improve vulnerable groups’ ability to access their legal rights. To this end, one of the program’s high-profile grantees is Al-Meezan newspaper, a five-year old publication in Babil Province. The newspaper is an innovative tool for advocacy, since it focuses on the legislative and procedural developments that affect Iraq’s vulnerable populations.

Importantly, the newspaper’s circulation strategy is to reach Iraqi leaders and decision-makers, bringing the challenges faced by vulnerable Iraqis to the fore through distribution in public buildings and courthouses. With financial support and technical assistance from the Access to Justice Program, Al-Meezan has been able to dramatically increase its circulation from one governorate to 15.

Al-Meezan’s coverage has had an impact well beyond its own pages, as well. In January, Al-Meezan’s editor, Hazim Safe, was asked about his newspaper’s coverage by one of Iraq’s most famous reporters, Mohammed Abdullah Shabot. Mr. Shabot wanted to know what Al-Meezan viewed to be the most pressing concerns for Iraq’s vulnerable. Based on the conversation, Mr. Shabot published an article in Iraq’s leading Al-Sabah newspaper expressing support for the Access to Justice Program’s concept of “quick wins” to achieve procedural changes on behalf of the vulnerable. This mainstream coverage has the potential to reach far beyond Al-Meezan’s readership to include and galvanize Iraq’s political elite on behalf of the vulnerable.

See stories in Arabic from Al-Meezan here here

April 2013

PROJUSTICE helps win the release of a juvenile in prolonged detention

When Rico Auguste was 8-years-old, his mother died. The young boy was left in mourning, and suddenly found himself the sole provider for his two younger brothers. To support his family, Rico had to quit school and find work. He eventually landed a job as a porter, helping secure luggage on a bus that traveled between Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and the town of Jérémie, on the country’s southwestern tip.

The years rolled by for Rico as he eked out a living and brought up his brothers. Then one September day in 2012, after getting in an altercation with another porter, 17-year-old Rico was arrested for simple assault. He was detained at the Portail Leogane Police Station for four days, and then sent to the National Penitentiary. On October 16, after already having been in detention for more than a month, Rico was sentenced to 15 days in prison.

Then Rico’s case slipped through the cracks.

For the next five months, Rico was left to fend for himself in the harsh world of the Haitian National Penitentiary, where he was often mistreated and assaulted by other prisoners. To survive, Rico fetched water for a dominant prisoner who called himself “Major.” At night, Rico slept under “Major’s” bed, and this provided him an amount of protection.

Then PROJUSTICE project stepped in. The USAID-funded PROJUSTICE project was launched in 2009 to help strengthen the Haitian judiciary and increase security through improved rule of law, which includes helping judicial authorities reduce the level of illegal and prolonged pretrial detention.

By the time the PROJUSTICE-USAID team interviewed Rico in early April 2013, the teen had already been in prison for more than 180 days beyond his court-ordered release date. PROJUSTICE immediately went to the prosecutor’s office registry to obtain the final judgment which contained the court’s verdict and sentence. PROJUSTICE then forwarded the final judgment to a deputy prosecutor, requesting that he release Rico, since his detention was now technically illegal. On April 5, 2013, with the release order in hand, the PROJUSTICE team obtained the release of Rico Auguste.

Rico stopped by PROJUSTICE’s office that same day to thank the team and USAID. He vowed to make the most of his newfound freedom. Rico plans to return to school and learn to be a mechanic, so he can open a vehicle repair shop and continue to help his brothers and hopefully have a better life.

Since October 2010, PROJUSTICE has helped Haitian judicial authorities reduce illegal and prolonged pretrial detentions by reviewing more than 1,300 priority cases, which has led to the expedition of more than 1,070 cases, and the release of 82 detainees, like Rico Auguste. The project is scheduled to end in July 2014.

April 2013

USAID Administrator Shah’s Testimony before Congress Highlights Results of the Iraq Access to Justice Program

According to Administrator Shah, in recent remarks to Congress, USAID’s core aims include support for US Government strategic priorities and strengthening of national security around the world. He stated, “Across the world, we are strengthening democracy, human rights, and governance, with a special emphasis on marginalized populations, including women and youth.”

He highlighted USAID’s work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where USAID works to move toward long-term stability, promote economic growth, and support democratic reforms, including the rights of women. Shah specifically referenced the results of the Iraq Access to Justice Program, implemented by Tetra Tech DPK: “In Iraq, USAID-funded legal clinics have supported over 1,700 legal cases on behalf of vulnerable individuals, including internally displaced persons and ethnic and religious minorities.”

Administrator Shah emphasized that programming in the Middle East is important to the US Government’s interests since it supports citizen demands for change and begins to “address the imbalance between our security and economic assistance in the region.” He stated, “Support for democratic and economic transitions enables the rise of capable new players who can help solve regional challenges and advance U.S. national security.”

April 2013

Tt DPK’s Iraq and Afghanistan Teams Shine in Jessup

“Competing in Jessup has helped to increase our experience and build our confidence as young lawyers,” Iraqi competitor Ahmad commented. “We are so excited to represent our country and learn about the legal system in America.”

The Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is the world's largest moot court competition engaging over 2,000 students from 550 schools in more than 80 countries annually. USAID’s Formal Rule of Law Program in Afghanistan sponsored the participation of students from universities across Afghanistan, awarding the team from Herat University with the national prize in January and funding their participation in the international competition held in Washington, DC in April. The Iraq Access to Justice Program worked with its successful teams from Baghdad and Anbar Universities, coaching them on courtroom etiquette and advocacy skills prior to their trip to Washington.

Students in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely have the opportunity to participate in international competitions. Many students are precluded from entering such competitions because they are not proficient in English and they lack the resources to compete on the same level as their global peers. On the ability to learn from her international peers, Afghan female law student Fereshta Abbasi remarked, “When I was competing in the International Round, I loved observing how other students entered their pleas, how they made their arguments and how they thought about law.”

Both teams excelled on the international stage, a testimony to their hard work in overcoming the challenges they continue to face. The support Jessup teams are given through USAID programming ensures that young lawyers like Ahmad and Fereshta continue to strive to become the justice sector leaders of tomorrow in their countries.

Read about the Iraq teams’ visit to DC on USAID's Impact Blog.

Read more about the Afghanistan team’s preparation and success here

April 2013

Macedonian Study Tour Highlights the Positive Role of Civil Society in Justice System Development

Civil society organizations working hand-in-hand with justice officials? The idea would mystify many citizens in transitioning countries, where civil society and the justice system typically work in isolation from one another, if not outright opposition.

Yet, as a group of Macedonian civil society actors learned on a recent study exchange to Estonia and Sweden, in mature democratic societies close cooperation between civil society organizations and justice institutions is not uncommon.

Thanks to the USAID’s Macedonia Judicial Strengthening Project, seven members of All for Fair Trials Coalition, Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, Macedonian Lawyers Association, Court Administration Association and the European Law Students Association had an opportunity to learn how legal professional associations and civil society organizations in other countries interact with justice sector institutions.

In Estonia, the study tour participants learned how to conduct targeted advocacy campaigns and monitor the implementation of reforms in their meetings with human rights organizations. In Sweden, the representatives from Macedonia met with bar associations and district courts to learn how to influence policymaking through lobbying and how to promote transparency by leveraging the media to highlight issues of corruption or interference in the judiciary by other branches of government.

The existence of real partnerships between justice actors and citizens came as a surprise to the study group members. Kiril Efremovski, the Executive Director of the All for Fair Trials Coalition in Macedonia, commented, “The District Court in Stockholm showed that the Swedish citizens have a deep trust and respect for their judicial system. The civil society organizations in Stockholm are treated like allies of the state and government bodies.”

The representatives will now return to Macedonia where they will transfer the knowledge that they gained through the study tour to other members of their associations and organizations and begin to apply what they have learned in their interactions with justice officials. With the USAID project’s support, civil society organizations in Macedonia should continue to assume a more prominent and constructive role in the development of the justice system.

March 2013

Women judges and female students to observe International Women’s Day

Women judges constitute only around ten percent of all judges in Afghanistan. In a country where women face frequent discrimination, increasing female participation in the judiciary matters. Women in the judiciary serve as role models, inspiring young women to consider legal careers. Female judges help ensure the legitimacy and impartiality of trials. In Afghanistan, it is more culturally acceptable for female litigants to express their grievances to a female judge than to a male judge.

The Afghan Women Judges Association (AWJA) is a legal professional association formed in 2012 which aims to increase women’s participation in the judiciary and promote access to justice for women and girls in Afghanistan. On March 9, 2013, the AWJA observed International Women’s Day with an event in Kabul, where it recognized the top ten women students at Law and Sharia faculties across the country and encouraged them to join the justice sector.

Fahima Ebrahmi, a fourth year student from the Law Faculty of Herat University, participated in the commemoration and received an award for academic excellence from the AWJA. The event encouraged Fahima to reflect on women’s rights in her country and her career: “Most women face direct or indirect violence. They can’t even work outside the home. For myself, and for the future of Afghanistan, I want to become a judge.” She intends to apply to the Supreme Court’s judicial training program, known as the Stage.

Women made up nine of the top ten graduates from the Stage in 2011 and 2012. This is despite the fact that women constituted less than twenty percent of the total number of participants during those years.

USAID through its Rule of Law Stabilization Program – Formal Component works closely with the Supreme Court to support the Stage to ensure judges possess the necessary training to excel at judicial service, and to strengthen the AWJA to advocate on behalf of women judges and serve as an inspiration for young women considering legal careers.

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