Chad: the many faces of justice (1/4)

N’Djamena, 5 November 2018 – This autumn, ASF presents a portrait of justice in Chad, through interviews with four people who are active in defending human rights in the country. This week, Doumra Manassé shares his vision of the role of lawyers and their place in society in Chad“People see us as civil servants or as traders. We are neither.” Doumra Manassé (age 39) is a lawyer. He grew up in Bebalem, in the south of the country, before moving to N’Djamena, where he still works today, to start studying law. A hell of a challenge! Manassé: It took 10 years for me to finish my studies and obtain a Master’s in private law. An academic year here can last up to 20 months, due to the many strikes by teachers demanding that their salaries be paid. The system for marking students is itself often arbitrary. A student who comes from the same region as their teacher, for example, will receive better marks than another one. Once you have qualified, how do you become a lawyer? Manassé: There is no competition to become a lawyer; people often use their connections. I didn’t need any myself: I was able to land an internship in the office of Mahamat Hassan Abakarn. He is the lawyer who headed the Commission set up to investigate the 40,000 killings committed under the Hissène Habré regime, which led to a referral to the Extraordinary African Chambers. I also was also able to take the oath barely five months after starting my internship, when some people can wait for up to five years. How do the people perceive lawyers? Manassé: There is still a widespread lack of knowledge about what lawyers do. People see us as civil servants or as traders. We are neither. Even some judges don’t understand our role! Just recently, an examining judge kicked me out when I was assisting a client. When I called a bailiff to say that I was being prevented from doing my work, the judge allowed me to remain present “on condition that I stay silent until the end of the hearing.” How would you describe the way justice operates in general? Manassé: Justice as an institution in this country is in disarray. In N’Djamena, for example, there is no proper courts building. The high court, the public prosecutor, etc. are housed in buildings that were intended to accommodate the members of the petroleum monitoring body. The premises are cramped, hot, and dark. Everything is done to ensure that you can’t think. Some judges are untrained and cause disruption in the justice system. Many are not sovereign and independent. The administration intrudes and interferes. Some judges will use their influence to win cases. In 2013, the legislature made it possible for the Ministry of Justice to petition the Supreme Court in the interest of the law, with no possibility of appeal. This is clearly illegal. The creation of a state based on the rule of law is essential for the development of Chad. What are the day-to-day challenges you encounter when carrying out your work? Manassé: I encounter a lot of resistance from people who are supposed to help me in my work, such as police officers and governors. Corruption is also a problem; I have often been pressured and even threatened to drop cases. Cases of lawyers being attacked, for example by the family of the opposing party, are not uncommon. I myself was almost killed in Doba, and nearly abducted from my home. From the moment you try to tell the truth and defend people’s rights, things are extremely difficult. Access to certain places is another challenge. One of my clients, for example, was arrested by the intelligence services. I was unable to meet with him because I didn’t have the authorisation needed to enter the centre where he was held for a month without food. I had to threaten to involve international organisations to have my client freed. He had lost a lot of weight. There are also financial considerations: the majority of people in Chad do not have the means to pay a lawyer. Sometimes I have to jump through hoops to make ends meet and feed my family. What gives you the courage to continue? Manassé: The desire, which has always driven me, to defend the many people who have been victims of injustices in my country. Take Jacques Vergès [the French lawyer who defended the Nazi Klaus Barbie, among others, Editor’s note]. Many people here don’t understand how we can defend certain people. But the right of every person to be defended is sacred, as is the presumption of innocence until a judgement has been pronounced. Is a lawyer a defender of human rights? Manassé: Without a doubt! In fact, it’s our main role. When human rights violations occur, lawyers should be the first to stand up and say no to infractions. We are participating in the construction of the state based on the rule of law and of democracy. ****
An interview carried out by Victor Odent, ASF Country Director in Chad.
Coming up: – Interview with Delphine Djiraibe, President of the Public Interest Law Centre. – Interview with Pyrrhus Banadji Boguel, President of the Collectif des Associations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme in Chad. – Interview with Guerimbaye Midaye, Honorary President of the Ligue Tchadienne des Droits de l’Homme.
ASF has been in Chad since 2012 and carries out several projects with justice actors on the ground, with the support of the European Union. This series of interviews presents a sample of ASF’s different partners in Chad.
Photo: Doumra Manassé
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Tunisia: making access to justice a reality for all

Tunis, 29 June 2018 – More than seven years after the fall of the dictatorship, the young Tunisian democracy is still under construction. Much of the work is ongoing or has yet to begin, including the essential reform of the justice system. In light of this situation, Avocats Sans Frontières and BEITI organised a national conference on access to justice, on 20 and 21 June, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs. This gathering – the first to bring together all those active in the country’s justice system – made it possible to take stock of the situation in terms of access to justice, particularly in relation to the reform of the legal and penitentiary systems, which was initiated in 2015, and to hold discussions on how to promote this fundamental right. According to Ghazi Jeribi, the Tunisian Minister of Justice; “Justice is an essential element of democracy, and the principle of equality before the law is at its core. It is vital to work towards its effective implementation.” He also drew attention to what has been accomplished over the past few years and to the progress of the programme of reform supported by the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme, representatives of which attended the opening of the event. “Access to justice is access to dignity” – Patrice Bergamini, European Union Ambassador to Tunisia The Tunisian Constitution of 2014 contains a number of fundamental principles relating to access to justice, such as the right to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time and the right to equality before the law. It also requires the state to facilitate access to justice and to provide legal aid to the most destitute. Many Tunisians, however, especially vulnerable people, currently struggle to obtain justice. Both the authorities and legal professionals agree that, as Mr Jeribi accepted, “The framework of legal aid must be reformed in order to achieve equality for all categories of people.” The spokesperson for the Supreme Judicial Council, Akram Mouhli, added, “The main obstacles are the slow pace of legal processes and the unfeasibility of delivering help to destitute people.” Furthermore, the years of the dictatorship left people with a considerable distrust of legal institutions. Mr Mouhli argued, therefore, in favour of broadening free legal assistance, making translators available, and providing direct assistance to people. However, the system’s failings will not be resolved by directives alone. “Even though we have achieved significant reforms, in part through the adoption of Law 5, which grants the right of access to a lawyer while in custody, there are still many difficulties involved in ensuring that it is effective,” warned Ameur Mehrezi, President of the Tunisian National Bar Association. Civil society is mobilising to put an end to the two-tier justice system During the two days of the conference, several innovative, experimental European projects in the area of access to justice were presented, which shed light on issues such as the role and place of legal clinics in poor areas. More technical workshops were held, which made possible more in-depth discussions and resulted in more concrete recommendations. These included the need for the commission responsible for drawing up bills to recognise the multiplicity of actors working in the field and to ensure coordination between them to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of assistance. Similarly, the bar association was urged to explore new partnerships, particularly with universities, so that the importance of the social role of lawyers receives greater emphasis throughout their training. Though there is still a long way to go, the conference has, once again, shown the capacity for Tunisian civil society to work with policy-makers to propose concrete measures in order to put an end to what amounts to a two-tier justice system. The most urgent and important of these measures appears to be overhauling the current system of legal aid. Legal aid has existed in Tunisia for a long time, but the way it operates excludes many vulnerable people. The reform must, therefore, take into account all forms of exclusion. This can only be done through collaboration with the institutional and voluntary actors involved in the field.
The national conference on access to justice was organised in collaboration with the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, the Instance Nationale de Lutte Contre la Traite des Personnes (national anti-human trafficking commission), the Tunisian National Bar Association, the World Organisation Against Torture, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Amal Association for the family and the child, the Association Tunisienne de Défense des Libertés Individuelles (Tunisian association for the defence of individual freedoms), the Association Damj, and the Tunisian Human Rights League.
Photos © Afkart Studio for ASF
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“Justice for All” legal clinic: a first in Morocco

Mohammedia (Morocco), 12 October 2017 – For the past few weeks, students of the Faculty of Law, Economics, and Social Sciences of Mohammedia have been informing vulnerable people about their rights and providing them with legal advice. Women who have been victims of violence, children in conflict with the law, migrants, and refugees are welcomed at the “Justice for All” legal clinic, a social and educational initiative developed by the Moroccan association “for the right to a fair trial” ADALA and ASF.This legal clinic is a great step forward for marginalised people in Morocco,” says Jamila Sayouri, president of the ADALA association “for the right to a fair trial”; “It represents an opportunity for the public as well as for those training to be lawyers.” Here, people receive information about laws and legal procedures. They are given free assistance and advice to enable them to assert their rights and gain access to independent and fair justice that conforms to international standards.
The official opening ceremony
Supervised by teachers from the university and assisted in the consultations by lawyers, the students themselves gain experience of the realities of practicing law, develop their social and interpersonal skills, and acquire an awareness of their role in promoting access to justice for all. Hasna Sakhoukh is one of the forty or so students who now take turns working throughout the week to ensure the delivery of services. According to her, “This initiative helps us to better prepare for our professional future, because we are in direct contact with the people who come to us for advice.” “In order to assist people effectively, justice actors must be well-trained. The legal clinics establish a connection between legal training and access to justice. It is essential that they work in collaboration with civil society, to ensure that people are well-informed about these services,” says Chantal van Cutsem, ASF strategic coordinator. Avocats Sans Frontières also intends to build links between universities, legal professionals, institutional actors, and civil society human rights organisations, so that they can share their experience and best practices, together propose comprehensive solutions to the problems encountered by vulnerable people, and develop joint advocacy activities. Lasting five years, this ASF and ADALA project in Morocco is funded by Belgian Development Cooperation.
Pictures: The official opening ceremony for the legal clinic took place on 28 September 2017 at the Faculty of Law, Economics, and Social Sciences of Mohammedia © ADALA
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ASF in Chad: a glance at the past and toward the future

Begin May, the European Union officially renewed its support for ASF’s work in Chad, allowing the organisation to continue its efforts to protect human rights in the country. This provides an opportunity to look back over some results achieved to date and look toward the challenges to come. Chad has been experiencing, for several years, strong social unrest due to a major economic crisis and to the mismanagement of government revenue. The respect of human rights itself is also developing negatively: authorities have infringed on public space and restricted the exercise of freedoms. In addition the population still encounters many obstacles when trying to access to justice. ASF has been present in the country since 2012, with the successive support of the European Union, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. ASF first concentrated on improving social care and legal assistance for minors. More recently, it has devoted itself to supporting civil society organisations mobilised to promote access to justice, such as the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). “For me, access to justice is fundamental to harmonious socio-economic development. It is also an effective way of fighting impunity,”explains Delphine Djiraibe, PILC President. “In Africa, and particularly in Chad, impunity is the worst of the factors that hinder effective exercise of justice, as well as development.“. With the financial and technical support of ASF, PILC targeted women for its interventions, focusing on issues such as gender equality and opportunities and combating gender-based violence. “The initiatives put in place by ASF and its partners in Chad are aimed, on the one hand, at marginalised and vulnerable people, such as women and children, or prisoners, and on the other at lawyers, paralegals, community leaders, representatives of local authorities and members of civil society organisations,”explains Gilles Durdu, ASF’s outgoing country director in Chad. Both activities directed at the citizens, such as awareness-raising activities on the law or free legal counseling, and those on behalf of civil society organisations, such as training on conflict management at the community level, “Have been very successful, often exceeding our expectations.“. ASF also successfully facilitated civil society reflection around the practice of paralegalism, resulting in the realisation of a common statute of paralegals, co-sponsored by 7 organisations. This statute is a real step forward in harmonising the practice of paralegalism in the country and offering all beneficiaries the same guarantees of quality of service. Two ambitious studies were carried out in 2016. Dedicated to the issues and consequences of detention on the prison population and on Chadian society, the first made it possible to initiate a dialogue between the actors relevant to the problem, including the Chadian authorities. The second, focusing on community-based natural resource conflict management, proposes numerous recommendations for the better management of natural resources at the local level and of related conflicts. For a duration of two years, the new ASF project will be implemented in summer 2017 with the support of the European Union, in partnership with the Chadian League for Human Rights, under the title “Support for Citizen initiatives to promote and defend human rights in Chad “. ASF will continue to support civil society organizations working to defend human rights.
Picture © ASF/G. Durdu
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Belgian Ministry for Development earmarks funding for access to justice

Excellent news: Avocats Sans Frontières has just been granted significant funding for five years by the Belgian DGD (Directorate-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid). This aid will be used for projects supporting justice in five countries: Burundi, Indonesia, Morocco, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This also represents ASF’s first project in Indonesia. In line with ASF’s original and enduring objectives, these projects aim to improve access to justice for all. They have three main themes: support for bar associations, lawyers and civil society organisations to ensure high-quality legal services; the fight against impunity for international crimes; increase awareness and autonomy in communities endangered by industrial activities. ASF works hand in hand with a dozen organisations and national bar associations, in collaboration with Belgian NGOs such as RCN Justice et Démocratie, 11.11.11 and Broederlijk Delen. “We are honoured, and we appreciate the confidence placed in us for a five-year period – a first for ASF – by the Belgian DGD“, declares Francesca Boniotti, Director-General of ASF. “Reinforced by this support, we aim for ambitious results in the five countries concerned.” For example, as a result of the project, 30,000 people in DR Congo will be advised of their rights, including 120 community leaders; over 7,000 legal consultations will be organised, and almost 2,700 people will receive assistance in court. ASF will be able to contribute to lasting attitude change in citizens seeking justice, legal services providers and institutional stakeholders. “We are delighted by the promising perspectives, but we are also realistic“, continues Francesca Boniotti. “The funding recently granted by the DGD is only 75%* of the budget originally requested. It will not cover all of our actions in these countries, nor our expenses.” Receiving funds from generous sponsors and private donors is more essential than ever to ensure ASF’s independence from the Belgian government’s geopolitical priorities, to explore new areas for action, and also for responding to urgent situations. Last December important funding from the British government came to an end. Filling this gap is a considerable challenge for ASF. As a result, your contribution remains vital to enable us to continue to provide high-quality and independent action. Keep supporting us! * Moreover, the amount granted is not completely guaranteed for the five years: the DGD reserves the right to revise it annually, and hence decrease the amount, depending on the Belgian government’s budget policy.
Photo: Training organised by the Indonesia Legal Resource Center, one of the two ASF’s partners in Indonesia © ILRC
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ASF in DR Congo: 15 years of commitment

Kinshasa, 13 March 2017 – ASF has come a long way since it started up its activities in Congo 15 years ago. Its aim, from the very beginning, has been to ensure that people become more aware of their rights and can enforce them. We opened our first office in Kinshasa on 12 March 2002. Since then, we’ve developed a wide range of projects that we describe below. Our network has grown nationwide, thanks to all those we have met who supported us, offering their advice and expertise, working with us in circumstances that were not always easy. On this anniversary, it’s our pleasure to thank everyone who has walked along this path with us. We would like to thank bar associations, lawyers, civil society organisations, and those who give us technical and financial support. And we could not have done it all without our dedicated, hard-working colleagues. We did our best to help all of those who turned to us for support. That is what makes our work worthwhile. We have certainly made progress, though we are in no doubt there will be challenges ahead. We are ready to contribute to resolving them to the best of our ability. The needs are certainly there. Now is a good time to take stock of what we have done, and to pave the way for the future. 2002-2004
  • ASF opens an office in Congo. Some 95 % of the population has no knowledge of the law nor of legal processes.
  • Intensive training for magistrates is set up in different provinces. The transitional constitution is translated into four vernacular languages.
  • Partnership launched with the library of the Faculty of Law, Kinshasa University.
  • Opening of the first ‘legal clinic’ in Kinshasa’s Kasa Vubu district, in partnership with the Women Lawyers’ Association in Congo. The clinic sees about 250 people a month to provide clear, understandable legal advice. Launch of awareness-raising and information campaigns in markets, outside churches, etc.
  • First mobile courts organised. Tribunals travel to remote locations.
  • ASF runs a regional project covering Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, and campaigning against torture.
  • Efforts are stepped up to break the cycle of impunity in international crimes. ASF offers legal assistance to both victims and defendants in trials conducted within Congo, as well as to victims appearing at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
  • ASF campaigns against impunity in sex crimes, rampant throughout the country. Projects are launched to bring perpetrators to justice. These include support for local NGOs, capacity-building for lawyers, awareness-raising, legal advice and representation in court for victims, studies and publications.
  • ASF undertakes strategic litigation involving human rights defenders under threat, such as those involving Floribert Chebeya and the Sirforco Company in Yalisika. In contributing to bringing about justice for those involved, ASF works towards achieving sustainable legal remedies to combat the problems at stake.
  • ASF helps seven communities in Lisala in Equator to defend their rights against logging companies.
2012-2016 2016-2017
  • ASF supports human rights defenders and other civil society activists taking part in debates on democracy, to strengthen their influence and enable widespread participation in public debates during the electoral process.
  • ASF steps up its efforts to promote access to justice in Congo, supporting those taking part in conflict prevention and resolution, and strengthening mechanisms that can help to consolidate peace.
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Tunisia: the law against drugs grinds to a standstill

Tunis, 20 May 2016 – In spite of declarations in the media and the adoption of a new bill by the Council of Ministers, the current anti-drug law is now entering its 25th year.  Even though it is largely considered to be unfair, ineffective and obsolete, this law continues to victimise the most vulnerable sectors of the Tunisian population.  ASF advocates for faster legislative reform on the issue. Not only is it ineffective, as proven by the significant increase in repeat offences, the current law on drugs (Law no. 92-52) has long been used as a means to repress young people whilst also encouraging the spread of corruption. During recent electoral campaigns a number of political figures, aware of the failure of this repressive policy, have promised to reform the aspects of the law which relate specifically to drug users. After a year of silence from the government in the face of constant pressure from civil society, the Council of Ministers finally adopted a new bill on the 30th December 2015. “In spite of this significant breakthrough, the bill’s adoption by the Parliament (ARP) does not yet appear to be a priority. And young people are still being arrested under the terms of the law and drug-users are continuing to fill the already massively overcrowded prisons where they represent something between a quarter and a third of all inmates”, warned Antonio Manganella, Director of Avocats Sans Frontières in Tunisia. ASF along with the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers have put forward a series of worrying statistics demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the law in a report published at the start of the year. “Three-quarters of people imprisoned for drug use are under the age of 30, more than half of those convicted are repeat offenders and drug addiction figures have reached 70% among young people”, explained Antonio Manganella. The statistics reveal a constant increase in drug addiction and repeat offending, leading to the clear conclusion that law no. 92-52 has not actually reduced the number of offenses and has therefore failed completely both as a measure for prevention or deterrence and as a solution to the problem. The new projected drug law was recently submitted to the ARP’s Commission for affairs relating to women, families, children, adolescents and the aged. “This first reading is a step forward but we deplore the lack of clarity over the bill’s legislative procedure; it has only been subjected to a preliminary study and has yet to be officially scheduled to pass in front of one of the legislative committees”, said Antonio Manganella. This draft bill does, however, reveal its extreme importance for the people it is intended to deal with, that is the younger population; who is not targeted by government’s social policies and finds itself unable to see Justice and the State as anything other than remote, or even hostile, figures. “Rebuilding a sense of trust between citizens and Government authorities involves the removal of the ineffective and repressive laws which were typical of the regime prior to January 2011”, he concluded. ASF is advocating for a speed up of parliamentary proceedings, notably by including the projected anti-drug bill on the agendas of the General Legislation, Human Rights and Civil Liberties Commissions, and also to ensure that the civil society can play an effective role in the parliamentary debates to come. Full press release available here (French version) Continue reading “Tunisia: the law against drugs grinds to a standstill”

A two-year struggle against the use of illegal detention in the DR Congo

Kinshasa, 8 April 2016 – For the last two years, with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation, Avocats Sans Frontières has been working actively with the Bar Associations of the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to combat the abusive and sometimes even illegal use of preventive detention in the country. The key aspects of this project were the development of the capacity of individuals held in detention to understand and to take action, the legal representation of detainees by specifically trained lawyers and the highlighting of the catastrophic conditions of detention, and the causes underlying the very widespread use of preventive detention.

Preventive detention is a measure aimed at depriving a person of their liberty while they are awaiting trial. It should only ever be considered as an exceptional measure, and strictly in accordance with the law, since the person detained under these conditions is still presumed innocent.

In the DR Congo, as in many countries, the reality is different. In fact, the vast majority of the prison population is made up of these detainees awaiting trial (between 75% and 82% according to the available figures) and who are often imprisoned illegally, given the lack of compliance with national laws and international standards establishing the conditions under which a person may be arrested and detained.

To date, within the framework of the Na Bosembo Tokokani project, 90 Congolese lawyers have raised awareness for 1,500 people in relation to their rights, have received some 1,500 detainees during legal consultations and have filed more than 2,000 petitions before competent judges in order to review the legality of the detention. When the detention was shown to be illegal or unjustified, the lawyers requested the release of their clients.

These activities, which were coordinated by the Bar Associations of Kinshasa-Matete, Kinshasa-Gombe, Matadi and Mbandaka, have offered legal aid services to the specific category of vulnerable people consisting of detainees awaiting trial. They have also helped to identify, understand and attempt to correct the serious shortcomings in the mechanisms for detention in the DR Congo. Within this context, two studies have been conducted in the province of Kongo Central, providing the opportunity to question those Congolese involved with detention about their experiences, and also to meet a large number of inmates held in Matadi prison. This research highlighted how the measure of detention as envisaged strictly in accordance with the law is frequently hijacked for the benefit of vested pecuniary interests.

The findings derived from activities of information, legal advice and legal representation for detainees, but also from the research and from the meetings with those involved in detention, mean that the 8 and 9 April 2016 will feature three important meetings in Kinshasa: a round-table discussion bringing together stakeholders from the prison, legal and administrative systems in relation to detention, a conference on legal practices and the alternatives to detention to which are invited all interested people and, finally, a photography exhibition by Rosalie Colfs which will illustrate testimonials from people who relate their stories about detention.

* Download the study Pour quoi détenir? Réalités de la détention des personnes en RD Congo (PDF in French)
* Download the study Expériences de la détention dans la prison centrale de Matadi (PDF in French)

Coverpicture © Rosalie Colfs for ASF

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Access to justice in Chad: civil society is mobilising itself

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

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The state of justice in the Central African Republic

Bangui, 27/08/2015 – ASF (Avocats Sans Frontières) has recently launched support activities to help facilitate better access to justice in the Central African Republic. In the wake of successive politico-military crises, the country’s judicial institutions need to be rebuilt. In collaboration with legal stakeholders, the Bar association and civil society, ASF’s actions aim to contribute to improving access to justice for vulnerable people.

In 2012-2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) experienced an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, leading to the deaths of thousands of people and displacing whole populations. Today, relative calm has descended on this country and its 4.6 million inhabitants, which has been rocked by politico-military crises since its independence in 1960.

The need for justice is great. The 120 lawyers who make up the Bar are all gathered in the capital Bangui, working in difficult conditions. Civil society organisations (CSO) remain very weak.

“The justice system in the Central African Republic is weak, slow and costly. It is a two-speed justice: one speed for the wealthy and one for the poor”, stated Arsène Sende, Inspector General for Justice.

The justice sector has a severe lack of funds, with a budget representing only 0.15% of the overall public budget. This has resulted in numerous consequences, including widespread impunity and corruption. Justice no longer fulfils its role to protect citizens and guarantee their rights, and is widely mistrusted by the population.

This analysis was shared during the first workshop for the official launch of ASF’s activities in the CAR in July in Bangui. Representatives from judicial institutions (the Ministries for Justice and Planning, the Inspectorate General for Justice, the Judicial Council, the Bar) and international donors were present.

The Minister for Justice’s Cabinet celebrated the arrival of ASF at a time when “the Constitutional Charter for transition prioritises access to justice for all”. According to its Director, the Central African judicial system will be able to “benefit from ASF’s expertise regarding (access to) justice in the countries of the Great Lakes sub-region”.

The stakes are high as the task is to (re)build the rule of law. “The justice system can expedite or hinder a country’s development through its organisation and operation, and it is now up to the people of the Central African Republic to choose what they want”, believes Mr Sende, Inspector General for Justice.

“Our project is developing against a backdrop of real needs and expectations regarding access to justice, in particular for vulnerable people”, explains Boubacar Diabira, head of the ASF mission in Bangui.

The ASF team will implement the following activities: disseminating the law to the population and stakeholders in the justice system, supporting civil society organisations to help them relaunch legal aid services and support for coordinating legal aid, supporting mobile courts with birth registration and capacity-building for lawyers and civil society organisations.

Mainly financed by the European Union (budget: EUR 352,000), the project will last for 24 months.

 Cover picture:  ©ASF

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