Pro bono lawyers contribute to sustainable development

Bali, Indonesia, 6 September – ASF calls for the strengthening of pro bono practices, which can bring about positive and sustainable change among societies and justice systems. This message has been shared at the 5th Pro Bono Conference held in Bali last week, and will be further disseminated in other international events.  Pro bono lawyers use their skills and provide their services on a voluntarily basis and without payment. This practice is essential because it helps making justice accessible for those who are unable to afford them, or lack the necessary means to realise their rights. This is why pro bono culture should be further promoted and strengthened. The work of pro bono lawyers does not only impact the lives of individual rights seekers; it also likely to impact at the level of their societies. “Lawyers may have a positive impact on social change, not only by inspiring a progressive jurisprudence, but also by acting on the society’s behavior”, explains Bruno Langhendries, ASF Access to Justice Expert.
Image BrunoBruno Langhendries, ASF’s access to justice expert at the 5th Asia Pro Bono Conference ©ASF
ASF’s legal aid programs have shown that change does not come from the provision of traditional legal aid or pro bono services. These are often too much focused on legal and judicial institutions that are sometimes rigid, overburdened or simply ineffective. “Change may occur if there is a shift in the way legal services are directed to empower and give autonomy to act to communities and marginalized people, rather than solely focus on lawyers’ and institutions”, says the ASF expert. These ideas and ASF experience have been shared at the 5th Promo Bono Conference which took place in Bali from 29 August to 1 September 2016. This event brought together 113 presenters together with participants from more than 25 countries, sharing and learning  together on ways to further strengthen pro bono and access to justice in Asia and globally. Participants included lawyers, judges, legal educators, students, corporations, governmental officers, international NGOs’ representatives and members of local civil society organisations. The event was not just a conference; it is a movement that supports, fosters and develops pro bono partnership and initiatives across the Asia region. ASF has been part of the conference’s programme committee. “This year’s conference theme is totally in line with ASF’s commitment, as social change is seen as the yardstick to define our involvement. It means that this movement is contributing to improving access to justice for the most vulnerable population. We are grateful to Bridges Across Borders South East Asia (BABSEA-CLE), which leads and brings energy to the movement since the very beginning”, concludes Mr. Langhendries. ASF contribution to the 5th Pro Bono Conference in Bali is part of a series of international meetings and events focusing on access to justice and sustainable development. Next rendez-vous include an international conference organized by ASF on Lawyering for Change, which will take place in Brussels on 31 November- 1 December 2016. For more information on this event, please click here.
Picture: ASF Lawyer assists farmer in defending her rights, East DR Congo ©ASF
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Access to justice and sustainable development: the missing link?

Brussels, 16 June 2016 – Promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensuring equal access to justice for all are part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. The effectiveness of justice and the rule of law are central to the establishment of sustainable peace and development in post-conflict countries. But how can we prove this? This is the question raised by ASF during the European Development Days.   Millions of people worldwide do not have access to justice to assert their fundamental rights. However, development actors agree that building up the rule of law and access to justice are essential to fight inequalities and support sustainable development. To this end, promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensuring equal access to justice for all (Goal 16, target 16.3) is innovative as it extends the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals to 2030. ‘The challenge today is to prove that access to justice improves people’s living conditions in the long-term’, states Julien Moriceau, research coordinator for ASF. ‘Women and marginalised groups often only have very limited access to justice. Are international aid programmes focused on these groups really effective? How to build the trust among the population towards institutions involved in conflicts?’, asks the coordinator. The response to these challenges could lie in setting up legal aid services locally, closer to marginalised groups, for example, in rural or suburban areas, developing alternative dispute resolutions and legal empowerment of rights holders. ‘We need to consider access to justice beyond the legal institutions and offer effective remedies for the realisation of fundamental rights’, concludes Julien Moriceau. This message was shared at a lively session during the European Development Days (EDD) last week in Brussels, in association with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. Organised by the EU, EDD are Europe’s leading forum on development and international cooperation.
Photo: S. Havyarimana (ASF), Dr. I. Chaara (Oxford University), Dr. J. Beqiraj (The Bingham Center for the Rule of Law) and J. Moriceau (ASF).
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ASF wins ING Solidarity Award

Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) was recently awarded a Solidarity Award by the bank ING. ASF’s aid project for refugees and asylum seekers in Burundi was one of 15 selected by the jury, from almost 650 entries.

By running this competition for the first time, ING Belgium has enabled the winning organisations to increase their visibility and benefit from a financial boost. “Unfortunately, lots of interesting projects are not visible, or they are not visible enough. This is a way for us to commit to supporting charitable organisations”, explained Joke Van Hoye, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at ING Belgium, at the awards ceremony on 10 February.

Francesca Boniotti, Director-General of Avocats Sans Frontières, welcomes the award: “Winning this prize means that both the impact and the sustainability of our actions have been recognised.” Séverine Degée, Communications Officer, explains the impact that the prize has had: “We have won €2,500, which is obviously a modest amount, but it will enable us to do things such as guarantee legal assistance for 100 asylum seekers before the national courts that are responsible for deciding on their applications for protection. It’s a very welcome boost to the financing that our project has already received from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.”

BUR_Piddar2013_Tim Op De BeeckAs a result of its geographic position, Burundi has welcomed people seeking international protection for decades. These people are particularly vulnerable. They are not very aware of what procedures they need to follow to lodge an application for asylum, and they are often victims of sexual violence and gross violations of human rights. Thanks to the project launched by ASF in 2013, over 7,000 refugees and asylum seekers will be informed of their rights and responsibilities and the asylum procedure. They will be offered free reception, referral and legal advice services. They will also receive assistance before the courts. Finally, special training programmes will be organised for the authorities, the police, civil society and the media.

This prize also represents a new stage in the collaboration between ASF and ING, which was initiated in 2012 on the occasion of the organisation’s 20th anniversary. Don’t miss the second edition next year!

Cover picture: The members of the ING Solidarity Award jury. From left to right: Philippe Masset (ING), David Leyssens (Kauri), Sabine Denys (Business & Society, chair of the jury), Lieve Blancquaert (photographer), Pascale Van Durme (Vzw Socialware Philantropie/Filantropie), Rik Vandenberghe (ING) and Véronique Van Cang (ING).

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« Music For Life », music for more justice

Brussels, 10 January 2014 – The law students of the University of Leuven and the Flemish Bar Association have organized different fundraising activities for the radio campaign ‘Music For Life’. Their goal: to support the activities of Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF).

Last December, public Flemish radio station Studio Brussels’ yearly solidarity campaign, ‘Music For Life’, took place in Boom (see picture), a small city near Antwerp. With the slogan ‘The warmest week of the year’ a full week of radio was made in open air for 700 good causes. In parallel, others were encouraged to organize activities to raise additional funds for one of those causes—which is what the Leuven law students and the Flemish Bar Association did for ASF.

On 9 and 10 December, a cake and coffee sale was organized in the Law Faculty of the University of Leuven. “Most people were enthusiastic to buy a coffee or a cake, even the professor who was teaching at the moment”, stated Gauthier Moureau, the student responsible for the event. “Also, a lot of students weren’t aware of what ASF did. After some explanation, most of them were really interested in ASF’s work”. Still, Gauthier remains down-to-earth: “the money that we raised is just a drop in the ocean for an organization like ASF, which tries to improve access to justice in countries where the needs are great. But that doesn’t stop us from giving our all for ASF.”

The Flemish Bar Association also took action to support ASF. For an entire week, the employees of the Bar could contribute through the Music for Life donation box placed in their offices. Babette De Grom of the communication service at the Flemish Bar Association recalls: “Some employees even wanted to do something of their own. One colleague baked cookies on the weekend and wanted to sell them for Music For Life”, Pens were also sold at the Annual General meeting of the FBA.

In addition, listeners of Studio Brussels were given the opportunity to request a song for Music For Life, provided they made a gift for ASF.

Altogether, these activities raised approximately 900 euros for ASF.

“We want to thank everyone for their efforts.  The Flemish Bar Association and the law students of Leuven University showed that everyone can take action for an organization like ASF”, says Gilles Van Moortel, in charge of fundraising at ASF.

Cover picture: Open air show from Music For Life in Boom © ASF/ T. van ‘t Hof.

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Access to justice on the post-2015 agenda

Brussels/New York, 19 December 2013 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), along with fellow human rights organisations all over the world, has called for the post-2015 development agenda to be embedded with a human rights framework to ensure both sustainability and justice. Especially important for ASF is the emphasis on the role of access to justice as a human right that guarantees all other human rights.

ASF is one of over 300 non-governmental and civil society organisations who signed the “Human Rights for All Post-2015” statement. This statement was presented at the United Nations General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals in New York last week.

Established in 2000 by the international community, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) included goals such as the eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of empowering women, to be achieved by 2015. “With this deadline fast approach, it is clear that the goals will not be reached. This is largely due to the lack of emphasis on reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society”, explains ASF Executive Director Francesca Boniotti.

People living in poverty are less able to access justice than others. For instance, these people are at greater risk of being put in illegal pre-trial detention without access to a lawyer, adequate food, water or sanitation facilities. It puts their families at risk of losing their jobs or their ability to send children to school.

Without access to justice, people are also less able to use their freedoms of speech and press to protest non-transparent and corrupt systems that divert resources from funding public services, hampering people’s ability to realise their rights to health and education.

“Development can only be possible when people have greater control over their own lives and can make decisions to realise their human rights and better their situation according to their own priorities”, finds Boniotti. “Access to justice is needed for those to be able to protect and defend those rights, and play an active role in their communities”.

For ASF, it is essential that the post-2015 framework recognises the centrality of access to justice for guaranteeing accountability for all other rights and goals. Only then can the development agenda be sure that it empowers people, enabling them to reach their full potential in a structure that promotes democracy, the rule of law and sustainable peace.

To read the “Human Rights for All Post-2015” statement.

To read the ASF note on “How access to justice can help reduce poverty” (May 2013).

To watch ASF short video “Making justice accessible improves people’s lives”.

Cover picture: © ASF/I. Van Gisbergen

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Why is justice without borders?

Brussels, 15 November 2013 – Who better to respond to this question than Federica, Bahia or Gilles? They are Avocats Sans Frontières’ (ASF) Heads of Mission and Project Coordinator, based in Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Tanzania. They have gathered for ten days of intensive briefing at ASF’s headquarters in Brussels. Together with their colleagues from the field, they share their views on the core of the organisation’s mandate: the defense of human rights.

“Justice is without borders because no matter where in the world, justice must be accessible,” believe Federica Riccardi, ASF’s Head of Mission in Tunisia, and Katia Urteaga Villanueva, her colleague based in Burundi.

Semaine CM2
Justice should reach groups in vulnerable situations, such as women in Nepal © ASF/S.Stanton

“It’s injustice which is without borders,” adds Hélène Trachez, Head of Mission in the DRC. “Look at the international crimes perpetrated in the East of the country: rape, looting, murder… The fight against these crimes needs to go beyond borders. International justice is, by definition, the collective responsibility of all states, not just of one.”

“The issue of borders also affects lawyers and other human rights defenders (HRDs) who are often confronted with attempts to limit their work, such as threats, judicial harassment or even torture and murder. They need a protection which could require them to leave their country for short periods of time,” asserts Gilles Durdu, ASF Project Coordinator for the protection of HRDs in five central and eastern African countries.

For Bahia Zrikem, ASF’s Representative in Kinshasa, “the boundaries are not only geographical. Justice must also surmount others: political, social, economic, cultural, religious, identity-based… Everyone should have equal access to a fair justice system.” The a.i. Head of Mission in Uganda, Céline Lemmel, affirms that “we all have the same rights, and all of us have the right to have access to justice without being discriminated against. It’s through justice that we safeguard the ability to exercise our fundamental rights.”

“This last point is essential in order for individuals to make choices and live the life they choose to live,” concludes Miriam Chinnappa, Regional Representative in Asia. “One way to ensure that this is achieved is by providing people with access to justice, which strengthens their ability to challenge power structures as well as incidents of discrimination and exclusion. People will then be capable to secure access to assets, such as housing or a plot of land, address poverty, and open up opportunities to advance human development.”

Cover photo: ASF’s Heads of Mission gathered in Brussels for ten days of intensive briefing © ASF

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Saving up for more justice

Brussels, 17 October 2013 – Ensuring justice means ensuring sustainability. That is the reason why Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) also reaches out to people who save up their money at banks committed to sustainable development, like Triodos Bank. Therefore, at the invitation of this bank, ASF took part at the annual Triodos Day, in Brussels, and took this opportunity to share its message of sustainable justice with savers and clients.

triodos day 2
Signing up for the ASF newsletter is a first step © ASF

Triodos Bank stands out in Belgium as the only bank with a focus on sustainable banking. Triodos Day on October 13 offered the bank’s clients the opportunity to visit information stands of various organisations, including ASF.

Triodos Bank, like ASF, gives great importance to equal rights, human dignity and a better quality of life. “We are thankful for the opportunity to introduce our organisation to Triodos’ savers, because ensuring justice means ensuring sustainability,” says Gilles Van Moortel, member of the communication team of ASF. “In post-conflict or transition situations for example, such as Nepal and Tunisia, transitional justice is a crucial step towards durable peace. Therefore, ASF is active in such countries to help build a fair and efficient justice system.”

The attending savers were interested in ASF’s stand. “I’m attentive to any topic dealing with human rights and justice. ASF is the go-to NGO in that domain,” shares a young woman from Liège. Another visitor is of the opinion that ASF deserves more visibility: “Such visibility is important to garner support for your actions, and for those who need your help and better access to justice.”

“Although ASF is mainly supported by institutional donors such as the European Union, we also count on individual donations. Therefore we want to thank in advance all savers who are willing to invest in the fight for human rights and access to justice. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or one hundred euros, every donation counts,” states Gilles Van Moortel.

Hopefully, we can address the savers again at next year’s Triodos Day.

Cover photo: The ASF team ready to convince the savers of the importance of sustainable justice and access to justice © ASF

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