Access to legal services in Balkh improving with UN backing

7 Dec 2015

Access to legal services in Balkh improving with UN backing

MAZAR-E-SHARIF - Recent initiatives, supported by the United Nations in the northern Balkh province, have led to improved access to legal aid for Afghan citizens, said community leaders at a workshop in Mazar.

Officials from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched a legal aid project last year to assist the Afghan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) in providing legal services to those who can’t afford them. The UNDP project led to several notable changes, many of which were outlined at the Mazar conference facilitated by UNAMA’s regional office.

According to data presented at the workshop, which drew several dozen government officials, legal professionals and community leaders, the understanding among ordinary Afghans of their right to access a defence lawyer is better now than ever before.

While access to legal services for ordinary Afghans has been a priority for Afghanistan’s new National Unity Government, several factors, including insecurity and detrimental cultural practices, have impeded reform. But that has been changing, thanks to the efforts of government officials working with groups such as AIBA.

“Hiring a defence attorney to help you fight a case was an unknown concept in 2003,” said Babur Shah Kohdamani, head of Balkh’s AIBA branch, noting that the number of defence lawyers has increased dramatically in Balkh, with provincial residents now having a much better understanding of their rights and many more professionals qualified to assist them.

AIBA, created in 2007, opened its Balkh branch in 2011 and has been expanding and promoting its services with the support of UN partners in the province, especially UNDP and UNAMA. According to Mr. Kohdamani, there are more than 300 defence lawyers operating in the province now, with one third of those being women, who mostly focus on women’s rights and family issues.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and relevant international and local non-governmental organizations to assist in the full implementation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights provisions of the Afghan Constitution and international treaties to which Afghanistan is a State party, in particular those regarding the full enjoyment by women of their human rights.