Indonesia: 5 years supporting access to justice

In 2017, ASF launched its activities in Indonesia with two local partners. Together, we worked to increase access to both formal and informal justice mechanisms for marginalized and groups in vulnerable situations through improved community-level, evidence based service delivery. A special focus was put on training and supporting paralegals to help them assist local populations in their justice needs.

In countries with very few lawyers per capita, paralegals are practitioners who do not possess a law degree but have a basic knowledge and understanding of the law and deliver legal advice to the population. ASF has worked with paralegals in several of its countries of intervention as they can be fundamental actors in helping local populations access justice.

A baseline perception study on paralegals and the role they can play in strengthening access to justice was produced at the start of the project. Its findings were used to create training modules. These modules were then used by several local organizations to reinforce paralegals’ capacities. They address a large scope of subjects, with different thematic and geographical coverage, which made them flexible and useful for a great variety of organizations. Our partners have found it to be instrumental in supporting the enactment of the legal aid local regulation in Bali in 2019.

In the frame of the project, three digital platforms were launched to support civil society organisations.

A Case Management System was created and is now used by several organisations to manage the cases they are working on in a database. It has been developed in open source so that any legal aid organization can use it freely. 

The Paralegal Information System was created to help paralegals request and receive legal support from lawyers in order to asssit them in the cases they work on.

And finally, an application called E-resource, was created to allow legal aid service providers to access books and other resources.

To support advocacy efforts, a community of practice was created with multiple stakeholders working on legal aid issues. It allowed members to debate on future necessary legilslative reforms to promote. Those 5 years in Indonesia enabled us and our partners to draw important conclusions regarding access to justice in the region. First, it is undeniable that paralegals play an essential role in assisting local population in their justice needs. Their status needs to be further recognized by local and national authorities. Secondly, the production of flexible training modules with the possibilitly to choose the materials is easier to replicate and should be prefered to a fixed curriculum. Finally, even though the use of digital platforms to strengthen capacities of civil society organizations has been promising, it proved to be very expensive and lengthy to implement. It must be tailored for each organization, which can take months of discussions. The availability of IT officer and maintenance through funding source must be found to ensure the service sustainability.

Prisons in Tunisia: inertia of a repressive system

In Tunisia, the actors of the penal chain tend to perpetuate the repressive reflexes of the former Ben Ali regime. Prison overcrowding remains very high: a 131% rate of occupation with 23,607 prisoners at the end of 2020 (accused and convicted) for around 18,000 places available, resulting in detention conditions below international standards.

The measures taken to counter the pandemic had for a time helped to curb the figures. Between mid-March and the end of April, 8,551 detainees were released, a 37% drop in the prison population. This decrease was due in particular to the mobilisation of several civil society organisations, including Avocats Sans Frontières and its partners in the “L’Alternative” project. By multiplying calls for a decrease in the prison population, civil society has contributed to this notable drop in the prison occupancy rate.

Nevertheless, this historic deflation was only temporary. As a result of short-term measures (presidential pardons, reduced pre-trial detention and increased conditional releases), this drop was quickly erased by the repressive structural dynamics from which Tunisian penal policy still suffers.

Conservatism among judges, difficulties in accessing a defence from the moment of police custody, the massive use of pre-trial detention (62% of those incarcerated are defendants), imprisonment for minor offences (such as cannabis use or unpaid cheques), and the limited use of alternatives to prison are all factors that explain the persistence of this high rate of incarceration.

Changing people’s mind and moving away from these repressive reflexes, particularly in the magistracy, is a long-term task. This is why particular attention is paid to developing advocacy with actors in the criminal justice system and political decision-makers. This is all the more important as reforms of the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure are underway, which would be necessary for any significant structural change.

To contribute to the reform of penal and prison policy in Tunisia, ASF continues to work with its partners despite the democratic transition slowdown and a period of political instability in Tunisia. In particular, through its “L’Alternative” project, the organisation provides technical and financial support to civil society organisations working at different levels of the penal chain (before, during and after incarceration).

Legal clinics to support access to justice during pandemic

Throughout the world, the pandemic has pushed people further away from access to justice. In Morocco, ASF has been relying for several years on legal clinics, set up in universities, to promote access to justice, particularly for people in vulnerable situations. Under the supervision of teachers and legal professionals, students provide legal services to the population.

During the pandemic, these structures enabled ASF and its partners to maintain the link with justice seekers, and in particular with one of their main target groups: women victims of violence. One of the perverse effects of the measures imposed to contain the spread of the virus was the consequent increase in reports of domestic violence. The limitation of movement and the closure of certain administrative services deprived victims of domestic violence of the usual care systems.

In response, the legal clinic continued to provide legal advice and guidance via telephone consultations and the What’s app. By taking into account the habits of the beneficiaries, ASF was able to maintain contact with the women victims of violence in order to accompany them during the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis also presented a challenge to the organisation of legal clinics. Access to prisons and protection centres, but also access to the legal clinics’ facilities was limited. To address those issues, four lawyers provided a service via different digital platforms (Zoom and Whatsapp) to receive calls from justice seekers and respond to their needs for legal advice and guidance.

The online coaching and capacity-building sessions for students were a real success. Despite some initial difficulties in adapting, the students, supported by lawyers, were able to receive complaints and provide guidance to the victims.

The legal clinics also organised mock trials via zoom, in order to prepare students for the digitalisation of the judicial penal chain (and in particular for remote trials). This activity allowed ASF to anticipate the future challenges linked to those transformations.

Reparation to victims of international crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a major challenge in the fight against impunity

ASF has been active in the fight against impunity and the field of international justice for over 15 years in the DRC. During that time, the organization has witnessed great progress but regrets that current mechanisms are still not up to the challenges at stake.

As conflicts persist and condemnations in international crimes are more and more regular, victims still struggle to effectively receive the reparations that are granted to them by courts and tribunals. This represents a major issue as reparations are considered fundamental to achieving an effective process of reconciliation in the DRC. To this day, despite the 28 million USD granted to more than 3.300 victims, only one reparation ruling has been partially executed.

This obviously constitutes a major issue in itself but this is not the only problematic aspect about the reparations granted. Their form raises two major issues as well. First, they can only be granted through judicial decision, limiting access to justice for many victims. Secondly, Congolese law only allows the allocation of individual and monetary reparations.

The nature of the crimes committed, the prejudices suffered and their impact on large portion of the population require an adapted response. ASF considers that the Congolese legal system in its current state does not meet the standards required for these international crimes trials. International criminal law, for example, provides for the possibility of collective and non-pecuniary reparations, provisions which have not yet been incorporated into national legislation.

ASF addresses those challenges through its project “Pursuing the fight against impunity of grave crimes committed in the DRC”, funded by the European Union, and implemented in partnership with RCN Justice et Démocratie and Trial International. ASF’s and its partners’ strategy revolves around 4 axes: access to justice for victims, capacity building of field actors, awareness-raising and advocacy.

Thanks to the collaboration between ASF, its partners and the bar associations of Northern Kivu, Ituri and Maniema, more than 500 victims of international crimesinternational have been able to benefit from legal assistance in 2020. To make sure they benefit from the best services possible, ASF and its partners organized training sessions on reparations and their execution to the attention of lawyers, but also training sessions on data collection in the context of international crimes for civil society organizations.

Finally, ASF and its partners work to raise awareness of victims of international crimes and lead an advocacy effort to denounce the non-execution of the judicial decisions in favor of victims.

According to ASF, there is an urgent need for a thorough review of the place given to victims and reparations in the many international justice trials taking place in the DRC. For if these challenges are not met, the whole transitional justice process in the country is at risk. Its success is fundamental to enable the population to regain confidence in its institutions and to hope to achieve real reconciliation at national level.

Indonesia – Providing integrated services and a safe environment for women victims of domestic violence during the pandemic

Indonesia – Providing integrated services and a safe environment for women victims of domestic violence during the pandemic

Throughout the world, the increase of cases of violence against women has been an unfortunate feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. And Indonesia was no exception. Based on the data gathered by our local partners, the number of submitted complaints has suffered a 50% increase in Jakarta between 2019 and 2020. Those figures are another reminder of the gender inequalities still strongly embedded in family structures in Indonesia.

And those inequalities have been aggravated by a lack of consideration for gender discrimination in the formulation of COVID-19 policies in the country. Availability of social services accessible to women victims of violence remains too scarce. Physical and mental support services, sufficient allocated budgets, access to information and a safe environment, ability to file complaints, … are so many fields that need to be worked on in order to further help victims.

Considering this vast number of areas to improve, ASF has decided to focus its action on advocacy efforts to encourage authorities to provide multi-disciplinary services to support women who are faced with these issues. In 2020, ASF conducted several online meetings with paralegals and formulated recommendations to the local government as a continuation of its advocacy efforts for establishing an integrated criminal justice system in Indonesia.

The latest advocacy led by ASF and its partners has already seen the Jakarta governor take measures for preventing and handling cases of violence against women and children. Among those measures, posts have been created in public transportation to allow women to file their complaints and an online application and a hotline number have been implemented to facilitate further the filing of complaints. The local government has also committed to providing safe housing and legal, social and health facilities to victims. The new policy also recognizes the state as responsible for raising awareness about gender equality.

This new approach by the State and its recognition of the need for the implementation of multi-disciplinary services to improve access to justice for women victims of violence could become important precedents in Indonesia for other justice seekers. This represents a major progress in the approach to access to justice in the region and ASF hopes this can be built on to further advance human rights in the country.

ASF joins the “Poverty is not a crime” campaign

ASF joins the Open Society Foundation, APCOF, PALU, and ACJR in a campaign to promote the decriminalisation and declassification of minor offences. “Vagrancy”, “disorderly behaviour” or “idleness” remain valid grounds for arresting and imprisoning individuals, contributing to the endemic overcrowding of prisons throughout the world. Particularly affecting people in vulnerable situations, these laws and their application are both arbitrary and discriminatory. 

In many countries on the African continent, such offences date back to colonial times. But while these laws have been repealed in the former colonial powers, they remain in force in many African states. 

By providing a criminal response to socio-economic issues, vulnerable populations are further marginalised. Maintaining these minor offences in the penal code therefore fuels a vicious circle. In many countries, the criminalisation of minor offences is one of the main sources of prison overcrowding. Decriminalising these offences and ending the detention of people who are not a danger to public order is the only way out in the long term.

Within the framework of the Poverty is Not a Crime campaign, several organisations have united to decriminalise these minor offences. Advocacy actions are being organised at national and regional level, mobilising ASF’s teams and partners.

Following an interpellation launched at the initiative of the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU), the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled unanimously on December 4th 2020 in favour of the decriminalisation of minor offences. It declared these laws and regulations incompatible with the African Charter, the Children’s Charter and the Maputo Protocol. It is in accordance with this opinion that it ordered the States concerned to review, repeal and, if necessary, amend these laws and regulations.

The criminalisation of minor offences is incompatible with the constitutional principle of equality before the law and non-discrimination. It has a considerable impact on the poor, vulnerable people and women and infringes on many of their freedoms, including freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

Following the positive decision of the African Court, ASF joins civil society organisations to call for the repeal of such offences and all forms of unjustified repression. 

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Policy Brief : Reflexions on victim’s participation before the International Crimes Division in Uganda

Victim participation is a central element in achieving justice and reconciliation in Uganda. The practice is allowed by the International Crimes Division (ICD) but efforts still have to be made by courts and the legislator to actualize its full use in court proceedings. This policy brief offers an analysis as well as a few recommendations regarding the situation of victim participation in Uganda.  The concept of victim participation is a relatively new aspect in Uganda’s common law system, where victims traditionally have no role in criminal court proceedings. The Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RoPE) of the International Crimes Division (ICD) are an exception in that regard, as they allow victims of international crimes to participate in the court proceedings. However, the Rules are silent on how such participation should be operationalized. Relying on close monitoring of Thomas Kwoyelo’s case at the ICD, interactions with the victim communities and study of the relevant legislation, this policy brief provides an analysis of how victims have been participating in the court proceedings since the adoption of the RoPE and highlights the challenges that have been encountered so far in the process. Among those challenges, we note the absence of clear guidelines for participation of the victims in proceedings and the lack of resources dedicated by the Court to ensure such participation. The Court has so far taken a reactive approach which has made it difficult for the victims’ lawyers to make participation meaningful. The physical distance between the victims and the Court and lengthy proceedings further contribute to the loss of interest and fatigue that have been growing among victims. Besides the necessity for the ICD to develop guidelines on victim participation to address those issues, there is an urgent need for the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) to come up with a proper victims participations strategy and to ensure financial support to the ICD and the victim lawyers. The policy brief also puts forwards a few observations and recommendations regarding reparations. Reparations are a central issue for the victims and a main motivation for their participation in the proceedings. The possibility for the court to order reparations upon a guilty verdict is foreseen under the RoPE. However, important questions remain unanswered and call, once more, for guidance from the ICD. For example, it is unknown whether or not victims who are not participating in the proceedings will be entitled to reparations, and what the actual modalities of court-ordered reparations, if ever awarded, would be. Additionally, the scope of reparations under the RoPE lays emphasis on financial compensations, mismatching victims’ own preference for other forms of reparations. Beyond court-ordered reparations, there is a need for the legislator to work on a country-wide reparations framework that provides victims with clear perspectives to address their grievances. Victims’ participation is an important element in court processes especially among the victims that were affected by post conflict in Northern Uganda.  This greatly contributes to justice, healing and reconciliation among others. It also makes the victims feel part of the processes in achieving justice for the harm that they suffered. It is therefore important that the different stakeholders ensure that this concept is actualized to avoid instances of the victims losing interest in the court processes. Download the policy brief here Continue reading “Policy Brief : Reflexions on victim’s participation before the International Crimes Division in Uganda”

Keys for access to justice in the Central African Republic

Access to justice is a serious problem in the Central African Republic. That is the key finding in a study Avocats sans Frontières has just published. Analysis of the situation on the ground has revealed difficulties in access to lawyers and to a state justice system of adequate quality. Those are the reasons why citizens avoid the formal state system, and instead, turn to local chiefs, religious leaders, non governmental organisations and others. ASF recommends that development agencies draft and implement robust strategies to achieve sustainable improvements. And for them to be successful, these strategies must include all the actors involved, both formal and informal.

Inadequate state justice system

The justice system in the CAR was already fragile before the crisis in 2013. It subsequently collapsed. State tribunals are sparse outside the capital, making it very difficult to get access to legal help. Security services often set themselves up as the primary handlers of legal aid. However, they do not have the requisite competences, and they handle cases internally. Furthermore, there are many reports of corruption, extortion, intimidation and random detentions in the course of their activities.

Lack of access to lawyers

The cost of legal services, the lack of points of access, and the type of case lawyers prefer to handle (mainly relating to property and business), means that most citizens simply cannot get affordable access to legal services. Nevertheless, they trust lawyers. Citizens say they are willing to take their cases to lawyers, providing the legal services available are affordable.

Informal systems are a widespread alternative

Given the lack of access to formal services, many citizens turn to neighbourhood alternatives to resolve disputes. Village chiefs, neighbourhood chiefs, and religious leaders are among those solicited. These avenues are more accessible than formal systems, but there are nevertheless problems. There are conflicts regarding competences, and confusion among the chiefs administering justice. There have also been reports of discrimination, corruption and intimidation in the exercise of such alternative systems.

Recommendation: treat the problems holistically

ASF has observed that many strategies to remedy the situation are limited to improving official state systems. It recommends that actors such as major donors wanting to improve accessibility to justice treat current problems holistically. That means involving both formal and informal structures in order to create stable, sustainable systems. The reality on the ground is that there are established informal structures. Any strategy that does not involve them will fail. Avocats sans Frontières has carried out numerous projects in CAR since 2015. This report is its latest contribution to attaining and promoting better access to justice in the country. To read more about these studies, follow this link.
Photos © ASF / Gaïa Fisher – Cynthia Benoist
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Digging for power: Women empowerment and justice amidst extractive industry developments in Uganda

Kampala, 8 March 2019 – Joining in the celebration of women across the world today, ASF releases its analysis of the progresses and shortcomings in achieving women’s rights in Uganda’s extractive industry context. Oil and mining industry developments in Uganda are filled with promises of economic and social improvements. Yet, respect for the human rights of local communities amongst economic interests remains far from achieved. As in other similar contexts, numerous violations of the rights of women and increasing gender inequalities are observed. Indeed, while men are more likely to get a greater share of the benefit in terms of employment and income, women are more exposed to the negative consequences – social disruptions, environmental degradation – affecting their sources of income and physical integrity. In a recent research covering extractive industry hot spots in the Bunyoro and Karamoja regions (oil and mining), ASF investigated how women are able to deal with economic transformations and their impacts. The report highlights how, in environments characterised by patriarchal dynamics, poor law enforcement and high power asymmetries, women manage to take initiatives to answer immediate needs of an economic nature but have limited ability to react when facing other types of injustice, such as gender based violence or violations of their rights to access land, to health and to a clean environment. Several factors appear to enable or constrain women in their ability to react to, mitigate or adapt to the changes they face due to mineral exploitation. Savings groups, for instance, have proven to be an enabler of action as they offer a basis for collective women initiative in male-dominated public spaces. On the other hand, our findings point that women’s power to take action or redress injustice amidst extractive developments is constrained when they have to rely on external avenues. Considering Uganda’s imperfect institutional and law-enforcement background, this conclusion is little surprising. Our data shows, however, that the arrival of powerful private actors backed by government elites contributed to further weakening supporting structures such as local governments, community leaders and local conflict-resolution actors. In the increasingly asymmetrical context that resulted from industrial developments, local structures are left ill-equipped to provide adequate support to aggrieved women and communities. Companies and national government actors do not, on the other hand, offer valid solutions to mitigate the negative consequences of their activities – sometimes even using existing institutional weaknesses in their own interest. Eventually, very few avenues exist for women and communities to claim and enforce their rights amidst extractive industry developments. To address those shortcomings, ASF advocates for a multi-facetted legal empowerment programme, targeting actors across the whole justice spectrum. On the demand side, women and communities affected by industrial developments must be equipped to not only redress the injustices they face, but also take an active role in socio-economic developments and hold their elites accountable. On the supply side, efficient and coordinated justice mechanisms must be made available. Actions range from strengthening the capacities of community-based justice actors to adopting and implementing laws through which powerful extractive industry stakeholders can be held accountable. >> Download ASF’s report Digging for power: Women empowerment and justice amidst extractive industry developments in the Albertine and Karamoja, Uganda >> Watch the video
With the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation.
Picture © ASF/Alexia Falisse
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Doubt and hope: young people’s views on local governance in Tunisia

Tunis, 22 May 2018 – For nearly three years, ASF and I Watch have been assisting the involvement and constructive participation of Tunisian citizens in local governance relating to natural resources. A survey of young people’s views was carried out in the mining regions of Tataouine and Medenine. Analysis of the results reveals their lack of trust in political institutions in the run-up to the municipal elections that took place on 6 May. The wave of unrest that struck Tunisia in 2011 continues to affect the country, especially the southern regions, which still face many social, economic, and environmental challenges. Despite their vast potential in terms of natural resources, they are experiencing high levels of unemployment and pollution, as well as the worrying phenomenon of desertification. Young people, who stand to suffer the most from this situation, have started numerous social movements demanding more transparency and accountability from companies, both public and private, and fairer distribution of the wealth derived from the exploitation of natural resources. Through this field survey, they expressed their vision, hopes, and expectations. The survey had two objectives: to give a voice to young citizens of Tataouine and Medenine on the subject of local democracy and the sustainable management of resources, and to make local elected officials aware of the level of trust that young people have in local and national institutions. Between November and December 2017, 650 people aged 18 to 35 were surveyed in the two governorates. One thing that emerged from most of the answers was the serious lack of trust that those surveyed have in state institutions and political parties, the sole exception being those at a local level, in which their trust is relatively high. Though young people feel a strong sense of belonging to their regions and to their nation, they are not very optimistic about the future of their country. The majority of them have little hope that their living conditions will improve over the next three years. Despite the low rate of registration for the municipal elections (45%), they are conscious of the importance of participative democracy. The dubious transparency of the elections, however, and the shortage of information due to the lack of debate in public and in the media, hinder their involvement in social and political matters. Despite natural resources being the most important sector in terms of economic development, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about them. Among young people, 69% have a negative view of the way resources are currently managed and think that the government is failing in its duty to control and oversee extractive activities. Despite this general mistrust, the vast majority of young people surveyed still have faith in collective action and civic engagement. 58% of them indicated that they were prepared to be personally involved in the struggle for transparency in the energy sector. ASF and IWatch advocate putting in place mechanisms for participative democracy and open government, in order to improve knowledge and promote involvement by all. The Tunisian state must toughen its controls on the management of extractive activities, while civil society organisations, trade unions, and political parties must have more of a presence and be more accessible in the southern regions, in order to provide young people with a structured framework for political participation and community involvement.
The survey was officially presented in Tunis on 27 April © ASF
>> Download the survey Les élections municipales dans les régions extractives : le regard de la jeunesse sur la gouvernance locale (“Municipal elections in mining regions: young people’s views on local governance”)
Cover picture: the survey took the form of a questionnaire and was carried out face-to-face © ASF
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