UNDP Finds Lawyers for Women, Children and the Poorest in Herat

A woman waits at the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association office in Herat to seek legal aid for her case. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / 2015

Herat, May 2015 — Fahima*, pregnant, was forced by her husband to crawl on all fours with the family’s dogs. It was just one of the ways she was abused during her one year marriage. He also beat her with sticks, yelled obscenities at her and poured boiling water on her hands.

“It was such a bad life. You can’t imagine. I couldn’t see a good future for me or my child,” she says quietly, sitting in the corner of a room at the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) in Herat. Fatima’s mother cries as she relates her story.  

Highlights

  • Her Husband beat Fahima with sticks, yelled obscenities at her and poured boiling water on her hands.
  • Since mid-2014, the Legal Aid Grant Facility (LAGF) has mobilized defence lawyers to represent 189 women, children and indigent men in Herat.
  • Fahima was assigned a free defence lawyer through LAGF and eventually she was able to seek divorce.
  • An estimated 3080 people, including 2904 men and 176 women, await access to justice in Herat province.

The Legal Aid Grant Facility (LAGF), established in 2014 as part of a partnership between AIBA, UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights in Afghanistan (JHRA) project and the Ministry of Justice, has mobilized defence lawyers to represent 189 women, children and indigent men in Herat who, like Fahima, cannot afford legal representation. 

Registered with LAGF, 94 defence lawyers, 25 of whom are women, have been able to resolve 122 out of 189 cases in Herat. 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. The LAGF aims to address that problem with provision of free legal services. 

Fahima was assigned a free defence lawyer through LAGF. Despite receiving personal threats from her husband, the lawyer processed the case, and eventually she was able to seek divorce. She says she is grateful for the assistance that she received from the lawyer.

There are an estimated 3080 people, including 2904 men and 176 women, awaiting access to justice in Herat province. Some of them are detained due to misinterpretation of the law. According to the International 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”.

Until the LAGF started accepting cases in mid-2014, there was limited legal assistance available in Herat through lawyers working for NGOs and the government’s Legal Aid Department. The opening of LAGF has helped increase access to legal assistance in the province. “Many people were going unrepresented. The active legal aid providers could not cover all the cases because the demand was too high,” said Zabihullah Karimullah, the access to justice coordinator for JHRA. “The LAGF is a step in the right direction to provide increased access to legal services to the poor, marginalised and women in Afghanistan.”

UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights in Afghanistan project 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 country. 

*The name has been changed for privacy reasons. 

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