Monday, February 27, 2012

Transitional Justice: Civil Society Has a Voice in Burundi

I was excited to get the photos from our Burundi Country Director, Louis-Marie Nindorera, who led a training on Transitional Justice last week. 

What’s happening in Burundi is historic.  These photos help make it real.  

Training participants
Throughout Burundi’s history, recurrent outbursts of ethnic violence have been followed by large-scale repression. The truth about the past remains unaddressed.  Burundi’s ethnic communities have been steeped in one-sided accounts of the past that hold the “other” ethnic group accountable, seeding the ground for the next round of devastating ethnic violence.

Now that vicious cycle could be coming to an end. 

After  a devastating inter-ethnic conflict that claimed more than 100,000 lives over 15 years (1993-2008), the Burundian government is on a fast track to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was called for in the Arusha Accord in 2000.

We believe that civil society has a critical role to play in ensuring that the voices of all Burundians – particularly those of victims - are heard in the TRC process.  With funding from USAID, Global Rights helped to establish the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Network on Transitional Justice in 2006 to increase civil society’s understanding of, support for, and participation in the transitional justice process.

When Burundian authorities suddenly set their ambitious schedule last year to establish the TRC, we were concerned that civil society’s voices were being left out.  Fortunately, Louis-Marie was able to hit the ground running because he and the NGO Network have been a powerful voice in the intervening years to make sure that accountability remained on the political agenda.

A training member receives
 her certificate of participation
The first thing Louis Marie and his partners did was to create an electronic forum where all documents about the TRC are maintained and accessible to all the network members – the first of its kind in Burundi. 

Then, last week, twenty-five participants representing nine civil society organizations took part in the three-day training in Bujumbura.  Together, the group began to identify possible indicators of rising social tension that may occur before the TRC is established so that the cause of the tension can be addressed. 

The participants also reviewed the implementation plan of the pending TRC legislation to assess its feasibility.  They also designed an easy-to-use template that they will use to document and monitor human rights violations that could occur before and after the TRC is established, as well as to assess the effective implementation of the TRC legislation. 

Their work has just begun and they have a big job ahead.  Four follow up sessions will take place throughout the year with a lot of work in between.  I will keep you apprised of Louis-Marie’s and the NGO Networks’ progress on this historic undertaking. 

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“Without women, there is no peace.”

“Without women, there is no peace.  We are part of the solution.” 

Ms. Afifa Azim (left) with Justine Rukeba Mbabazi,
Global Rights' Afghanistan Country Director
That is what Ms. Afifa Azim, General Director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), said to me last week when I attended the launch of Global Rights’ fourth Legal Advice Bureau (LAB) in Afghanistan in the city of Nangarhar, which is in an eastern province bordering Pakistan.  AWN is our partner organization in running the Nangarhar LAB.

It’s Jeff Le again. As my visit to Afghanistan comes to a close, I wanted to share another update that was particularly meaningful. 

What does the opening of our Legal Advice Bureau have to do with women and peace?  Our LABs are designed to provide legal assistance to the most poor and marginalized, primarily women, in family court. 

We believe empowering women to access justice so that they can assert and protect their rights is a potent tool to overcome power imbalances in society.  A more balanced society – with women fully participating in the life of the community – is a more peaceful society. 

Ms. Azim explained to me how our LAB can pave the way for change:

“The LAB is the tool used to help women and the poor directly.  Helping to advise and represent clients in court allows for grassroots change for the community.  Through the LAB, we are also working with local leaders to educate them on how women’s and human rights do not oppose values of Islam.  Rather, they are complementary.

The Nangarhar LAB allows us to build a coalition and groundswell of support to promote change at the policy level.  Actual implementation will be more effective than research. This is the only way we can help the Afghan Government implement what they promised.

With the upcoming transition years in Afghanistan, women must be a part of the process.  In Bonn, the international community understood this and gave us a platform to speak.  Our voice was heard.  Without women, there is no peace.  We are part of the solution.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Global Rights is proud to be partnering with AWN and we grateful that so many key officials joined us at the launch of our Legal Advice Bureau, including Deputy Nangarhar Governor, Mohammad Hanif Gardiwal; Chief of Court of Appeals, Mr. Fazal Hadi Fazeli; Chief of Justice Department, Mahmoud Khalil; and Chief of the Independent Human Rights Commission, Dr. Rafiullah Baidar.

We’re off to a great start!  Thank you for your support.

- Jeff

Posted by Jeff Le

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Filling a Need 24/7

Hello from Afghanistan!  I’m Jeff Le.  Normally, I’m based in Washington, D.C. supporting Global Rights’ development and communications efforts, but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to come to Afghanistan. I’m here to learn more about how Global Rights is helping to strengthen the legal system through its Practical Legal Education and legal advocacy and assistance programs.

This past weekend, my Afghan colleague Shakir Sibghatullah and I visited Herat - a charming city in Western Afghanistan best known for its famous silk and saffron.

The three defense lawyers (right)
While we enjoyed the fantastic weather (Kabul is snowy and cold), we came to Herat to visit our Legal Advice Bureau (LAB).  Global Rights’ Herat Legal Advice Bureau funded by the U.S. Department of State, is one of four LABs building the capacity of Afghan local partners in Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Nangarhar provinces to assist women and marginalized communities secure access to legal services and assert their legal rights in family court.

Since August 2011, the Herat LAB. led by our partner, Voice of Women Organization, has provided legal advice on 48 family cases, 14 criminal and civil cases, and provided court representation to 26 clients.  They also work closely with the Afghan Ministry of Justice’s Legal Aid Department and international legal aid organizations to refer cases when they are more high profile and require additional resources.

We had a chance to speak with the three LAB defense lawyers, Khatera, Somaya and Faisal, who are supporting these disenfranchised communities.  Despite being in a deeply rooted conservative society, these women lawyers are determined to help their people accessing to justice.

“We’re working so closely with people in desperate need.  They come from poverty and in bad circumstances.   They suffer from violence and they fear for their future.  We’re trying to help where we can,” said Khatera.

Faisal chimed in and spoke about his experience on the job.

“It’s really a 24-7 job.  You’ll get phone calls in the middle of the night.  We’re filling a need in our community and they trust us to help them, ” said Faisal.
Somaya spoke of the mentorship and advice they receive during weekly information sessions with Global Rights Human Rights Legal Practitioners.

“Some of these cases are very complex.  Many times, we need a respected senior legal advisor for their advice.  I am learning all the time.  It gives us the confidence and the support we need to help."

I was really inspired by their dedication.  They’re working in tough conditions with a lot of pressure. Also, they’re not just sitting at their desks.  These lawyers are continuing to outreach to communities in the Herat general public.  In November, they worked with the Ministry of Justice to implement trainings on the importance of legal awareness and the basics of property and dowry.

It was fantastic to see how our staff is working to give the LAB the support it needs to do this great work.  The impact the LAB is having on lives in Herat is very clear.

- Jeff

Posted by Jeff Le