UNDP supports Initiatives to Provide Legal Aid in Helmand

UNDP Afghanistan: Female inmates at a prison in Lashkar Gah, Helmand.

People accused of crimes or imprisoned in Helmand province will now have access to legal representation and legal aid following the opening of the office of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) in Lashkar Gar. The initiative, supported by UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights (JHRA) project, will mobilise 10 defence lawyers who are expected to provide legal support to approximately 150 people in 2014. The project is funded by Denmark. 

According to the Afghan Constitution, every individual has the right to appoint a defence lawyer, but many Afghans do not have access or cannot afford one. Without defence lawyers, those accused of crimes languish in prison. 

There are an estimated 1,500 people, including children, in conflict with the law in Helmand province. Some of them are detained due to misinterpretation of the law. According to the Crisis Group, in Afghanistan “a substantial number of arbitrary detentions stem from the criminalisation of acts that do not constitute actual crimes”. It adds that in numerous occasions “citizens are detained for alleged crimes involving land disputes, debts, or family conflicts although the law expressly prohibits detention in such cases”. 

Highlights

  • The initiative, supported by UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights (JHRA) project, will mobilise 10 defence lawyers who are expected to provide legal support to approximately 150 people in 2014.
  • According to the Afghan Constitution, every individual has the right to appoint a defence lawyer, but many Afghans do not have access or cannot afford one.
  • Others have been accused of running away from home which, according to the attorney general and the Supreme Court, is not a crime.

The establishment of the AIBA office in Helmand will allow cases to be channelled to the province’s Legal Aid Grant Facility. The grant, which is also supported by UNDP, provides funding for legal aid cases undertaken by registered defence lawyers, prioritising cases involving women, children and the poor. 

At a ceremony to mark the opening of the office on August 20th, the Provincial Governor, Mohammed Naeem, emphasized the importance of defence lawyers in ensuring peace and justice in society. 

Of the people held in Helmand General Prison, 16 are women, many of whom are accused of so-called “moral crimes,” such as adultery. Others have been accused of running away from home which, according to the attorney general and the Supreme Court, is not a crime. There are 56 prisoners in the juvenile facility in Helmand, five of whom are girls. 

“Many people were going unrepresented. The active legal aid providers cannot cover all the cases because demand is too great”, according to the access to justice coordinator for JHRA in Lashkar Gar, Zabihullah Karimullah. “This is a step in the right direction to address some of these issues.” 

JHRA is also supporting the attorney general’s office to hire two female lawyers in Helmand for the province’s unit working on the elimination of violence against women. In addition, the project is facilitating the coordination between the state justice system and those involved in traditional justice mechanisms such as shuras or jirgas with a view to increasing the number of referrals to the formal justice system. 

JHRA works with the Ministry of Justice and other partners to support and facilitate the implementation of the Afghan National Priority Plans on Justice and Human Rights across the whole country. 

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