As part of its efforts to improve access to justice in Afghanistan through the Supporting Access to Justice in Afghanistan II (SAJA II) Program, IDLO organized an exposure visit for the members of the Afghanistan Legal Aid and Advocates Network (ALAAN) to Tbilisi, Georgia from April 22–24, 2019.
The group of 18 participants included four representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) including the Deputy Minister of Justice for Social Affairs, representatives of the Afghanistan Independent Bars Association (AIBA) and civil society institutions that provide legal aid in Afghanistan.
The purpose of the visit was to provide participants with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of their Georgian counterparts focusing on sustainability and alternative funding models for legal aid providers that can be reasonably adapted to the Afghan context. Georgia has a similar structure to Afghanistan in that the Legal Aid Department is established within the Ministry of Justice and there is a Legal Aid Board. The Transcaucasian country has suitable legal aid providers with varied funding, a workable legal framework governing the sector and a positive development trajectory for legal aid organizations that started from the ground up.
Commenting on one of the lessons learnt from the visit, the Head of the Legal Aid Department of the Kabul province said: ‘We will consider the implementation of a concept of monitoring the quality of services provided by the legal aid providers like it is currently developed in Georgia’. These inspiring best practices were also applauded by the Head of the Young Lawyers Association in Georgia when he declared: ‘We should focus more on strategic litigation and especially on pre-trial release of our clients. The information gained from our Afghan colleagues and the efforts undertaken in this respect in Afghanistan are very inspiring.”
The visit gave participants the opportunity to learn about alternative funding and sustainability mechanisms, discuss better ways of improving coordination among legal aid providing organizations, explore more practical and functioning ways of contracting with the government, acquire practical examples and information on doing advocacy and litigation, improving the trial notification system, enhancing early access to legal aid and practical mechanisms on how to reduce the number of unsentenced detainees. Discussions also covered public legal awareness (PLA) activities: enhancing PLA plays a great role in informing people of their legally ensured rights which ultimately will contribute to improve access to justice, decrease violence against women and fight corruption within the system.
Inspired by the discussions on PLA, a representative from Medica Afghanistan, a women support organization, explained that: ‘The way the Georgian Legal Aid Network web site is set up to provide information about the members, areas of expertise, contact details etc. could help facilitate access to legal aid providers for Afghan citizens.’
The Afghan delegation visited the Ministry of Justice, the Ombudsman’s Office, Legal Aid Services, Georgian Bar Association, the Attorney General Office, Young Lawyers’ Association, a local Legal Aid Bureau, the Human Rights Secretariat, the Georgian Legal Aid Network and the National Agency of Public Registry.
The ALAAN Network has been involved in identifying and addressing problems and challenges faced by defense lawyers and legal aid providers within the justice and judicial systems of Afghanistan. As most of the members part of the Network are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) depending on international donors, they need to seek alternative funding sources to ensure their sustainability and to continue providing legal aid services to indigent suspects, accused, and convicts.
The visit of the Afghan delegation to Georgia was also covered by the Georgian media.
IDLO’s legal aid work is part of the Supporting Access to Justice in Afghanistan project, funded by the United States Department of State. Through its programs in Afghanistan, IDLO is fulfilling its Goal to ensure that “institutions are effective, accessible and accountable” as envisaged in its Strategy 2020.