Thursday, October 17, 2013

Global Rights Executive Director Visits Afghanistan

Global Rights Executive Director Susan Farnsworth returned this week from a 10-day trip to Afghanistan, where she met with local Global Rights staff, international funders, and the many Afghan lawyers, law students and everyday Afghan people who benefit from Global Rights’ legal services and education initiatives.

On October 8, Susan visited one of our Legal Advice Bureaus in Kabul. The Bureaus were established in 2009 to help marginalized Afghans, particularly women, gain free access to lawyers who help them understand, and sometimes defend in court, their legal rights. Since 2009, about 5,000 individuals have benefited from legal services received at one of the four Bureaus that Global Rights’ partner organizations operate in the provinces of Kabul, Herat, Nangarhar, and Balkh. The partner organization that runs the Kabul Bureau is Justice for All.

Afghanistan Picture1
A client (left) works with a Legal Advice Bureau lawyer in Kabul to secure alimony for her and her two children.
Afghanistan Picture 2
Global Rights Executive Director Susan Farsnworth speaks with Mahfuza Folad, Executive Director of Justice For all

Below are some of Susan’s impressions a day after visiting the Kabul Legal Advice Bureau on October 8:
“Yesterday, I visited the Legal Advice Bureau (LAB) in Kabul, where part of our work focuses on increasing access to justice for poor and vulnerable populations.  The LAB is located in the government complex, where people come to deal with a myriad of legal papers: licenses, registrations, claims, etc.  It is well known that engagement with the various parts of the justice system often requires additional expenses to have one’s case heard and to push the paperwork through for a decision. The LAB offers a pro bono service to the poor, ensuring that they can participate in the justice system at no additional cost.  During my visit, I met with the four defense lawyers who staff the Bureau, three women and one man. I also met one of the clients, a young woman wearing a burka that had been thrown back across her head. She was seeking alimony and child support from her husband for herself and her two daughters.  The client’s grasp of the law and her rights was inspiring. Not only was she determined to move the case forward so that she could receive the alimony due her under law, but through the work with the LAB lawyer, she had strong knowledge of her rights and how the law should work to protect those rights. It was clear that the lawyers go the extra mile to educate their clients, and in doing so, they are educating many others and breaking down real and perceived barriers to the justice system.  The client’s case is dragging through the system, but she and her lawyer are determined to push and push until it is resolved.  Seeing their determination gives me hope that she will receive her alimony and that her case will demonstrate to others that Global Rights’ work in providing legal advice for the poor opens up a door previously closed.”

Susan also chatted with one of Global Rights Legal Fellows, a select group of promising graduates from our Young Lawyers in Training Program (YLTP). Fellows are chosen to work in Afghanistan’s justice sector and in local human rights and justice non-governmental organizations (NGOs.) Global Rights established the YLTP in 2005 to supplement universities’ Sharia and law school curricula with educational content related to human and women’s rights, topics that were not covered in the traditional curricula. The program also provides practical training in civil and criminal procedure, which adds a new dimension to the students’ mostly theory-based pedagogy.  So far, more than 2,700 young men and women have successfully graduated from the program.  Mohammed, who met with Susan on her recent trip, is a graduate of the YLTP and a current Legal Fellow. The fellowship provides Mohammad and his recent graduate peers with a unique opportunity to begin working immediately on legal cases under the supervision of practicing lawyers, judges and human rights activists.

After spending some time with Mohammed, Susan was impressed by his conviction and passion for women’s rights:
“The other day I met Mohammed, who is now working as a Legal Fellow to promote gender equality in the Ministry of the Interior. He was presenting his experiences to the new class of Fellows, and his enthusiasm and excitement was catching. I wanted to further understand his passion for gender and equal rights.  He explained to me that his understanding of the importance of treating men and women equally is grounded in the life of the Prophet, who treated each of his wives equally and with respect. His support and understanding of Afghanistan’s decree to eliminate violence against women is grounded in this deep moral conviction.  He also explained to me how the articles contained in the Afghanistan decree to eliminate violence against women are derived from the Koran.   Meeting Mohammed and understanding his commitment to gender equality and the passion with which he purses this in his work at the Ministry reconfirmed my belief that our work is indeed building the next generation of legal practitioners who will promote rights and equality for all Afghans.”


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