A lawyer from Voice of Women organization provides legal council to a recipient of legal aid services in Herat. Photo: UNDP-AQJS / 2021

Lack of access to legal aid services in rural areas of Afghanistan is a major challenge for indigents and vulnerable groups – specifically women, girls, and victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) to defend their rights. Providing legal aid services for such groups, as recognized by Article 31 of Afghanistan Constitution and new Legal Aid Regulation, rests with the Ministry of Justice. With limited capacity and higher demand for provision of legal aid services, MOJ is unable to provide the services in all of the country, especially at district level and remote areas.

Taking note of the immense need, UNDP through its Access to Quality Justice Services (AQJS) Project partnered with three national NGOs and established Small Grants Mechanism, to provide extensive legal aid services for targeted groups in 12 provinces of Afghanistan covering districts and remote areas.

20 years old Susan who was accused of murdering her husband was arrested by the police while she was seeking assistance. Her husband was killed by two unknown people in the Koshke Robat Sangi district of Herat province. But, her In-laws claimed that their son was killed by Susan who belonged to an indigent family. She could afford to hire private defense lawyers for legal assistance and representation of her case before the court. Looking for help for his daughter’s case, Susan’s father submitted a petition to Herat legal aid unit seeking for free legal aid services. However, due to lack of enough capacity and resources, the legal aid unit of Herat province could not provide the support and referred it to the Voice of Women (VOW) office which provides legal aid services at district level and remote areas through legal aid Small Grants Mechanism funded by UNDP’s AQJS project.

While interviewing Susan to take her case, she explained her side of the story, “a month ago, I and my husband went to my parent’s house for dinner. Right after dinner, my husband left for some urgent work, and did not return. I stayed with my parents for almost 20 days, and then had to call him back as my child got sick and he needed to be taken to hospital. On the way to my parent’s house, he was killed by two unknown people. While I was going through the trauma, and living the toughest moments of my life, my brother-in-law complained against me and claimed that me and my parents plotted the murder and opened the case against me based on this allegation.”

She further added; “when I was arrested by the police and was kept in the detention center, my family could not afford legal fees to defend me in the court. I thought of selling my jewelries and part of my father’s land to hire a defense lawyer to represent my case. But I was fortunately guided by the Herat Directorate of Justice on receiving free legal aid services provided by the Voice of Women Organization, and the organization assigned a defense lawyer to take my case forward with the justice institutions and proved my innocence.

“Without the assistance of the defense lawyer, it would not have been possible for me to prove my innocence before the court” added Susan. “Because of this support, now I am free and live with my children.”

UNDP’s AQJS project supports the provision of legal aid services to the most vulnerable groups through partnership with the three national NGOs, Voice of Women Organization (VoW), Afghanistan Human Rights Organization (AHRO) and International Legal Foundation (ILFA) in 12 provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Paktia, Herat, Badghis, Faryab, Ghor , Daikundi, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. So far 1855 beneficiaries (1639 male & 216 female) received free legal aid services through this initiative. 

With the financial assistance from Swiss Development and Cooperation for Afghanistan (SDC), the project will continue to support the government of Afghanistan in justice sector reform, improving access to quality justice services to Afghan citizens, specifically women and girls, creating a respectful work environment for both, women and men, and ensuring Gender Justice within the Afghan justice and judicial institutions. 

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