Increasing Access to Justice in Iraq: Stories from our Beneficiaries
It is my pleasure to present to you a booklet that illustrates success stories from UNDP Iraq’s Access to Justice Project.
The Iraqi Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process of law for all Iraqi citizens. Nevertheless, these remain unfulfilled promises for many people in Iraq. The Iraqi state’s capacity to exert legitimate authority and the rule of law has been weakened by the cumulative impact of decades of conflict, war, sanctions, violence and general degradation of state institutions since 1991.
A lack of security and reduced access to justice have severely affected Iraqi communities, especially women and the most vulnerable, including the aged, the poor, widows, female heads of households, children, persons with disabilities, minorities, internally displaced persons and returnees. These vulnerable groups have even more limited access to the formal justice system and little confidence in its workings, often relying on traditional justice mechanisms, important to the promotion of social reconciliation but often not compliant with national and international human rights standards.
The Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and security sector institutions are critical actors to enforce rule of law, increase security and protect citizens’ rights. However, their capacity and authority have been impacted by years of neglect and conflict, with other factors placing the systems under additional strain including significant levels of violence through intimidation, poor infrastructure, “brain drain” and the high number of conflict-related disputes.
To address some of these issues UNDP Iraq, in partnership with the Government of Iraq’s justice institutions, is undertaking a broad set of activities in the area of justice sector capacity-building and modernisation. The primary goal of the programme is to support the Iraqi judicial institutions to strengthen their capacity with the ultimate purpose to improve the rule of law for all Iraqis.
The activities include the development of an electronic case management system and the establishment of legal research units within courts to provide research support to Iraqi court staff.
As part of this programme, UNDP Iraq implemented the “Access to Justice Programme for Vulnerable Iraqis”, with generous financial support from the European Union, in the Kurdistan Region to increase access to justice for vulnerable individuals. In cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the project’s implementing partners, “Heartland Alliance” and the “Women Empowerment Organisation”, UNDP Iraq established three Legal Help Desks in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk.
To reach the greatest number of vulnerable Iraqis, Mobile Legal Clinic outreach sessions were held by the “Assistance to Justice” teams at secondary schools and orphanages, prisons and detention centres, camps hosting internally displaced persons, women’s shelters and various local non-governmental organisations. As a result, a large number of people were able to attend and receive information on their legal rights, obtain oneon-one counselling on specific issues and in some cases request that one of the Legal Help Desk lawyers represents them.
People of all ages, ethnicities and religions, men and women alike, were served by UNDP Iraq’s “Access to Justice” Legal Help Desks and Mobile Legal Clinics. All over Iraqi Kurdistan, this project benefitted approximately 7,300 Iraqis who received answers to queries, one-on-one legal consultations on family legal matters including divorce, alimony, child custody and on criminal matters.
In total, 310 persons were offered full representation at an Iraqi court by an Access to Justice lawyer.
More compelling than these statistics however, are the stories behind the numbers. This booklet provides a number of examples of how UNDP Iraq’s Access to Justice Project has changed the lives of the beneficiaries it served.
I wish you a useful reading of this booklet.
Jacqueline Badcock Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq