Justice is a nebulous reality in Iraq. Since the end of the war and throughout reconstruction the international community has been helping Iraq rebuild and develop effective and responsive democratic institutions. Hakí has been a partner in these efforts.
There are currently approximately one million widows, another million divorced women, four million orphans, two million refugees and 2.8 million internally displaced persons in Iraq. Their needs are overwhelming – to reclaim homes that are occupied by others, to secure the meager government benefits that allow them to feed themselves and their children, to find jobs or sources of income in a society where certain groups are advantaged at the expense of others, to be safe from physical violence in the home, on the street and in the workplace, to name just a few (Source: USAID 2009 Rule of Law Sector Assessment).
Iraq’s legal system has weak access points that frustrate justice for vulnerable populations and fails to translate rights on paper into material remedies. Vulnerable populations, such as widows and IDPs lack knowledge on their basic rights and entitlements; and there is an inadequate supply of capable legal service providers and institutions to help vulnerable citizens maneuver through the legal system to realize their rights.
Hakí was recently contracted to evaluate and propose recommendations for improving USAID programming on access to justice in Iraq. We reviewed a unique civil society-driven justice and legal aid program that has provided access to tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqis. Despite overall progress and a concerted effort by civil society, the Government of Iraq, and international partners such as USAID, there are substantial improvements that can be made and a number of innovative solutions to address stubborn challenges.
Hakí provided 10 primary recommendations for improving access to justice for vulnerable populations:
1. To strengthen both the sustainability of CSO legal aid models and increase the effectiveness of advocacy, donors should help develop a national network of legal aid CSOs, law school clinics, and legal associations. Such networks have proven in many contexts to substantially increase the availability and quality of legal aid for vulnerable populations, by promoting standards, referring cases to specialized organizations, and playing an essential role in advocacy for legal and policy reform. It is important that legal associations or Bars, such as Iraq Bar Association and Kurdistan Bar Association, are incorporated into this network to ensure buy-in by the legal profession, increase potential for pro bono requirements, and enhance advocacy. The network should be convened regularly and an online forum should be created to bring solidarity across the CSO members.
2. Donor-funded projects should help CSOs develop and refine tools such as a model case management system and database, and establish standards that can be adopted by all legal aid network members. Developing standard case management and M&E tools across all legal aid service providers is an essential step in creating the standardized approach and reporting requirements that will be required by any publicly-funded legal aid scheme. CSOs should be accustomed to reporting on their activities at a high-level that reinforces management goals, but that also addresses the information needs of donors.
3. Donors should support both established CSOs and identify and invest in new, promising CSOs that will target yet-unreached populations, have identified new, innovative approaches, or will tackle difficult issues not being addressed by existing CSOs. CSOs should be nurtured to ensure their legitimacy and their ability to sustain activities post-donor assistance. Mentor relationships between established CSOs and new, promising CSOs should be developed as part of its network and capacity-building efforts.
4. Donors should help CSO networks to advocate for greater support by the GOI. A sustainable system of government funding of legal aid should be explored and developed, borrowing from successful models in other countries. The system should create a legal services fund and independent legal aid board that oversees and coordinates grants to legal aid organizations to provide legal services to vulnerable populations. Under this system CSO clinics would have to follow set standards and be monitored by the government while maintaining autonomy. Donors could consider contributing to an initial fund, along with other donors and GOI, that would create an endowment of sorts to support the clinic system.
5. Donors should explore and consider expanding support to CSO legal aid services into other critical social justice issues that equally affect vulnerable populations, such as labor issues, housing and land rights. Data indicates that most cases currently received by legal aid clinics are focused on obtaining government benefits (32%) and accessing legal identity documents (17%). Alimony and divorce issues are the next most frequent number of cases. However, survey data on vulnerable populations indicates a range of other legal issues and disputes as extremely important to vulnerable populations. Housing (3%) and land disputes (3%) were indicated to be as important as crime (3%) and similar to poverty (5%) and public health (5%). Land and housing in particular are a critical issue for IDPs, returning refugees/IDPs and other vulnerable groups in post-conflict countries around the world.
6. Donors should consider moving away from typical awareness-raising workshops and instead consider awareness-raising activities that directly engage vulnerable populations in public campaigns, radio programs, and advocacy with the government.
7. Donor-funded projects should do more to develop skills for vulnerable populations that encourage greater participation and empowerment by the vulnerable to realize their rights. Donors should consider supporting partner CSOs to adopt community paralegal approaches to extend both legal awareness/empowerment and provision of legal aid to more communities. Projects should provide trainings to CSOs on how to develop and implement paralegal programs that ensure quality and professional standards while enhancing the ability of CSO lawyers to reach more vulnerable populations.
8. Support should be provided to the IBA and KBA and government decision-makers to finalize the draft law that will require pro bono service requirements for lawyers and assist with implementation of the law by helping draft policies that outline what qualifies as “pro bono” with a strong link to lawyers providing legal representation assistance for clients of CSO-run legal clinics.
9. Similarly, donors need to increase support to and establish more functioning law schools clinics. Law school clinics can be an important source of legal assistance for cases. Furthermore, many law school students that are involved with clinics during their studies will continue to work post-graduation, or will stay involved through pro bono work and/or advocacy to support clinics. Donors should explore with the IBA and GOI the creation of an educational requirement for law students to serve a practicum in clinics (or other public interest requirement) before being licensed to practice.
10. Donors should work with GOI counterparts to promote a more conducive operating environment for legal service CSOs. This includes increasing recognition by GOI institutions such as the Ministry of Human Rights, NGO Directorate, and Council of Ministers of the invaluable service these CSOs provide to vulnerable populations. Donor-funded projects have a role to play in advocating with the GOI on behalf of its partners on the importance of creating and maintaining a space for legal aid CSOs to operate and of the important public function they play.