Support to Free Legal Aid System by UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Today, UNDP in close cooperation with its legal aid platform parners in Sarajevo and Zenica, marks the Global 16 Days of Activism Campaign to end violence against women and girls. The Gender Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina states that 53 per cent of women have suffered some form of gender-based violence, while only 10 per cent of those have received support through the victims and witness support offices. As we mark the Global 16 Days of Activism Campaign with the focus on gender based violence it is worth reflecting that only a couple of years ago, access to justice for the poor and marginalised in Bosnia and Herzegovina was seriously hampered. Governmental free legal aid services were underequipped, understaffed and undercapacitated. This mostly fiercely affected women- single mothers, victims of domestic, gender-based violence and human trafficking. This is why UNDP has been working with national partners to establish a country-wide free legal aid system ensuring minimum equal standards for all in accessing free legal aid services- said Sabina Hidanović, UNDPs access to justice legal expert.
In practical terms, this means being able to assist Jasna, a woman who suffered long-term domestic violence but sought help only after she was kicked out of her home. When she contacted the FLA office she was fearful for her own safety and that of her children. After being given legal advice by the FLD
legal team, within 48 hours Jasna was provided with an adequte protection. After a full cycle of FLA assistance, Jasna returned home with children, gaining a full custody and alimony, while her partner has been given a restraining order. This story illustrates the importance of having a functional free legal aid system – for without adequate legal representation, women are losing custody of their children, giving up valid legal rights to support and property entitlements, and being victimized by litigation harassment.
As we mark this years global 16 Days of Activism campaign today, the free legal aid interventions convey a much needed message to the BiH society that violence in the family is not a private dispute, and that there are support mechanisms in place now. The nature of domestic violence is complex; the control and power exerted by abusive spouses extends beyond the life of the relationship. This is why we also focused on integration of justice sector mechanism into institutional referral mechanisms, such as Centres for Social Welfare, Centres for Mental Health, Free Legal Aid Centres, to ensure long term psycho-social and administrative support to survivors, Hidanović concluded.
Four new FLA laws and four new governmental agencies have been established. In addition, a FLA Network comprising eight governmental and six NGOs providers has been set up and strengthened by UNDP to provide over 20 000 free legal aid services. Recently a website has been launched enabling beneficiaries to get online access to networks and resources and even file their case.
By Nera Monir Divan,
UNDP CO Bosnia and Herzegovina