Access to justice in Chad: civil society is mobilising itself

ChadCapacity buildingLegal aidLocal justiceNews

N’Djamena, 7 December 2015  – Despite justice reforms undertaken in recent years, the population of Chad still encounters numerous obstacles when trying to obtain access to justice. Given this situation, civil society organisations (CSOs) are taking action and providing legal advice and assistance. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is supporting three of these CSOs in their efforts to protect human rights.

The population of Chad knows very little about its rights, especially outside of towns. Customary rules are still very influential. There are very few lawyers (174 lawyers for a population of 11 million inhabitants). These are almost all based in the capital N’Djamena, so the majority of Chadians are not able to make use of their expertise to assert their rights.

Given this situation, CSOs have been taking action for a number of years now. “We do the work of the public services that are almost non-existent: we make citizens more aware of their rights and offer them free legal advice, legal assistance and mediation services”, explains Marthe Dorkagoum. This magistrate is a member of the executive office and charged with public relations for the AFJT (l’Association des Femmes Juristes du Tchad – Association of Women Lawyers in Chad), one of three CSO partners in the ASF project “Improving access to justice for persons in vulnerable situations in Chad”.

The needs are enormous. “Our lawyers and paralegals take care of the disenfranchised, especially women who do not know their rights in the area of inheritance or who are subject to serious domestic violence”, shares Oyal Ngarassal, who presides over another CSO partner , the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). “It comes to a point where these people have had enough of suffering and take the step of coming to see us so they can defend themselves and assert their rights.”

Within the framework of the project, ASF gives technical support to the CSOs, in particular via training workshops and exchanges. Recently, the three partner organisations participated in a workshop dedicated to communication techniques. “How do you explain to the husbands that we are not there to turn their wives against them, but to make sure that their basic rights are being respected?” Yes, it is crucial to be able to communicate well in our line of work”, says Oyal Ngarassal. This is confirmed by Marthe Dorkagoum: “Not only the people, but also the local authorities need to have a better understanding of what it is that we do.”

The Vice President of the APLFT (Association pour la Promotion des Libertés Fondamentales au Tchad – Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Freedoms in Chad), Ali Mbodou, acknowledges the value of these workshops. “For us, it’s a plus. It’s a sharing of experiences.”

Apart from this technical support, ASF provides financial support that will enable the CSOs to provide legal advice and judicial assistance services (AJJ) to the population – in particular to women, children and persons in detention.

The AFJT,  the APLFT and the PILC carry out complementary activities and cover different geographical areas. Together, they make up more than 500 lawyers and paralegals. Within the framework of the ASF project 30,000 people have already been made aware of their rights, 2,000 people have received legal advice and 200 people have benefited from the help of a lawyer.

The ASF project “Improving access to justice for persons in vulnerable situations in Chad”, continues until May 2016, with financial help from the European Union.

Pictures: Three civil society organisations in Chad are mobilising to guarantee that the population receives legal aid services. Cover picture (left to right): Oyal Ngarassal from the Public Interest Law Center, Ali Mbodou from l’Association pour la Promotion des Libertés Fondamentales au Tchad (Promotion of the Fundamental Freedoms in Chad) and Marthe Dorkagoum from l’Association des Femmes Juristes du Tchad (Women Lawyers’ Association of Chad). N’Djamena, November 2015 © ASF/G. Van Moortel