Looking for pro bono legal experts

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Brussels, 2 September 2013 – The Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) International Legal Network (ILN) provides an opportunity for lawyers to volunteer from time to time in support of vulnerable populations in need of legal and judicial assistance. To date however, despite its 800 members, this network lacks professionals in specialised areas of law such as international criminal justice and the organisation of legal aid services.

Julie Goffin is a lawyer with the Brussels French-speaking Bar association and ILN member. Her commitment to human rights is not new. “My parents were already engaged in this field. As a student expert, I attended the negotiations during the adoption of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). That was in 1998 … in Rome,” she recalls. Since then, Ms. Goffin has consolidated her experience in foreign law, humanitarian law and in particular international criminal law. She is also part of the legal team representing some of the victims in the Katanga and Ngudjolo cases, both accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the DR Congo, at the ICC.

Training workshop on international criminal justice in Bukavu, June 2013 © ASF / G. Van Moortel

It is therefore natural that ASF sought her support to conduct a training workshop on international criminal justice and the Rome Statute system. This took place last June in Bukavu, a Congolese town bordering Rwanda. The training’s objective was to strengthen the capacity of lawyer members of the ASF pool in the DR Congo in the areas of professional practice and strategic action. “It is essential to promote the exchange of experiences among lawyers responsible for assisting or representing victims of serious human rights violations and international crimes. During the five days of training, I found my Congolese colleagues very open and committed to the fight against impunity,” she recounts.

Created in 2010, the ILN highlights the essential role of international lawyers alongside their colleagues working in countries where the rule of law has not yet been achieved. With the increasing number of ASF activities focused on building the capacity of lawyers, the Network quickly became a key source of expertise. “Since its inception, members of the ILN have made no less than 86 interventions, totaling 620 workdays. This effort has greatly contributed to strengthening the capacity of local players,” says Catherine Lalonde, ILN Coordinator.

“Yet today we lack members in areas such as representation in international criminal justice, the international framework of economic and social rights, and the treatment of corruption cases,” Lalonde continues. “Candidates with profiles of judges, prosecutors, and professors, or skilled in organising legal aid services are also particularly requested.”

After a strong development phase, the ILN network faces a new challenge: how to best meet the needs identified through ASF projects, in order to increase the efficiency and quality of the services it offers to the most vulnerable populations? For her part, Julie Goffin has come out enriched from her training mission in Bukavu: “Whether it is in the DR Congo or elsewhere, our colleagues give us a lesson in courage because they are the ones who take all the risks. Sharing our expertise with them is to show solidarity.”

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Cover photo: “Sharing our expertise is to show solidarity.” Julie Goffin, laywer and member of the ILN; Bukavu (DRC), 2013 © ASF / G. Van Moortel