A Call for Justice
Making Justice Accessible in Tajikistan through Free Legal Phone Consultation
Eurasia Foundation on Central Asia
Tajikistan suffers from significant human rights abuses including violence and discrimination against women. Between one third and half of all Tajik women say that they have experienced physical, psychological or sexual abuse at home with numbers in rural areas being higher. It was only in March 2013 that the government of Tajikistan passed the first law on domestic violence. Crucial legal protection of citizens especially of vulnerable groups remains missing and needs amendment. Though numerous laws and institutions are in place, the enforcement is limited. The reasons for these include:
- The Tajik government exhibits a significant constraint to enforce laws due to inefficiency of state institutions, instances of corruption, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and low legal awareness and information to its citizens.
- Authorities promote traditional gender roles, widely dismiss domestic violence as a “family matter” and suggest that elderly people and other informal leaders in the community should help mediate cases of domestic violence or issues concerning the rights of vulnerable groups. Informal leaders like village elders, however, tend to stress family unity over punishment for domestic abuse. The reliance on traditional justice mechanisms, a lack of belief that formal justice can be accessed without paying bribes, prohibitive legal costs, and limited experience of dealing with public institutions has resulted in the lack of knowledge of legal rights for women and other vulnerable groups.
- Women’s ability to exercise their rights remains limited because they are urged to follow these conservative norms typical for traditional and rural areas. They are raised “not to stand for their rights”, compounded by societal pressure to protect the family unit at the cost of their own health and well-being.
Past experience in providing free legal consultation in the 38 Legal Aid Centers (LACs) established through EFCA’s “Equal Before the Law” (EBL) project indicated that issues raised during face-to-face consultations are reoccurring and show a standardized answer pattern. Although the project has shown great success, the range of service provided is still limited. Thus, there is need to increase access to justice especially in the most remote areas to all citizens, especially for women and other vulnerable groups of the Tajik society.
The nine-month project provides a nation-wide free legal consultation hotline, focusing its service on women, vulnerable groups and family matters. To enforce this initiative, EFCA connects the 340 currently employed lawyers of the 38 LACs throughout Tajikistan to the hotline. The LAC and its lawyers will be financially supported by donor agencies such as Helvetas, UNDP, OSCE, UNHCR, OSI and EFCA-Tajikistan. The first month upon the establishment of the hotline will lay the path to make this project sustainable, also ensuring that the quality of current LAC consultations are not compromised and finding funds to maintain the service from other current donor agencies.
The objectives of the program are:
1) To create a hotline system to make justice and official information accessible, affordable and available on request and engage citizens to access information from all over Tajikistan. The activities to follow through this objective include:
- signing an agreement with operators to connect LACs and the people of Tajikistan through a free hotline;
- producing a confidential online database for lawyers, donor agencies and hotline consultants;
- enabling a media campaign promoting the hotline;
- reaching out to women and vulnerable groups to use the service.
- creating a database that provides (a) lawyers with the tools to register client information for efficient guidance; (b) partner agencies with a tool to conduct qualitative and quantitative evaluation of services; and (c) hotline consultants with the necessary data to connect seekers with lawyers;
- ensuring the sustainability of the phone consultation system by allowing the pre-assessment of cases, by assessing if the issue can be solved directly or if face-to-face consultation in one of the LACs is necessary.
2) To give lawyers and other stakeholders the necessary tools to provide effective, impartial, and culturally competent legal consultation. The activities to follow through this objective include:
- providing consultants on database and hotline operation;
- having lawyers from the LACs on phone consultancy;
- ensuring the inclusion and constant cooperation with donor agencies and local representatives of the Ombudsman Office to implement the project through initial training and follow-up sessions.
So far, the activities of the project have resulted in:
- One operational free nation-wide hotline;
- 38 preexisting LACs are connected to the hotline;
- 2 hotline consultants running the system;
- an initial-phase allowed reassessing the overall strategy and adjusting planned activities;
- 10 articles published in local and national newspapers;
- 5 radio shows streamed;
- 10,000 phone consultations were given, 50 percent of all were women or other members of vulnerable groups.
These initial outcomes have shown that there is a demand for free legal consultation. It has also built trust among women and vulnerable groups in accessing legal aid and services. The overall expected impact of this project is the wide promotion of human rights in Tajikistan- especially for vulnerable groups and allowing them to become active members of the Tajik society by recognizing and exercising their legal rights and thus, assisting them in lifting themselves out of poverty.
The project will impact several factors in the rule of law. It allows for people to access civil justice (factor 7) that is free of discrimination, corruption and improper government influence. Lawyers involved in the service will be trained to provide accessible, impartial and effective legal advice and support over the phone, available during working hours to prevent unreasonable delays. Additionally, the project implementation advocates an open government (factor 3) by providing official information on the legal rights of citizens in a range of languages. Any changes in laws and rights will be made accessible, and can be spread easily even to the most remote parts of Tajikistan. Furthermore, the project will work with trusted lawyers, ensuring and promoting the absence of corruption (factor 2) through proper advocacy of the free service. Ensuring access to justice by providing free legal consultation to all people of Tajikistan, including women and vulnerable groups, will promote order and security (factor 5). At the same time, consultation seekers will experience and exercise their fundamental rights (factor 4) through equal treatment and the absence of discrimination. Government regulations and laws can be applied and enforced without improper influence, supporting the public enforcement of government regulations (factor 6). Lastly, the project also acknowledges the role of traditional or informal leaders’ guidance. This form of informal justice (factor 9) plays a huge role in the culture of Tajik people and often the reason for mistrust in the formal legal justice system. Lawyers who are consulting will be able to educate the general public on their rights and assure them of the same standards of fairness in resolving disputes in formal systems.
The main partners in this effort are the phone service provider and the media. Additionally, the project works in close collaboration with the LACs all around Tajikistan, established jointly by EFCA-Tajikistan in 2009. Training for lawyers and hotline consultants will ensure efficient service to advice seekers. Furthermore, to ensure the sustainability of the project, EFCA will work together with co-donor agencies of the LACs and their lawyers such as Helvetas, UNDP, OSCE, UNHCR and OSI to provide the phone consultation service and maintain it after the initial nine months.
Region:Eastern Europe & Central Asia
Rule of Law Index Factors: Absence of Corruption (Factor 2), Open Government (Factor 3), Fundamental Rights (Factor 4), Order and Security (Factor 5), Regulatory Enforcement (Factor 6), Civil Justice (Factor 7), and Informal Justice (Factor 9).
Issue Areas: Education, Human Rights, Media, Security and Law Enforcement, and Women and Girls.