Legal aid clinics in Gaza help people get protection of the law
Asma* lived in Jabalia Camp in the Gaza Strip where she attempted to raise a family whilst trapped within a violent marriage. Aggression and attacks were part of her daily life; bruises and physical scars a recurring reminder of her predicament. Her husband often prevented Asma from seeing her children for months at a time, exposing them to abuse as well.
“I have been a bread winner, a mother, and a protector, defender, and guardian of my children, but I have never been a wife,” she says. “How could I feel that I was a wife when my husband had victimised me since the very beginning of our marriage?”
In an effort to empower local communities and improve access to justice for vulnerable people, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped establish a network of legal aid providers in Gaza, bringing together the Palestinian Bar Association, civil society organisations and academic institutions.
- Eighteen legal aid clinics have been established and supported across the Gaza Strip.
- Over 17,000 Palestinians received legal aid in 2011 through six legal aid clinics.
- Seventy-four percent of women represented by UNDP-supported legal aid providers received outcomes in their favour.
The network provides an array of advanced legal services, including representation, litigation, mediation and arbitration, and since April 2011, has been operating 18 clinics across the Gaza Strip.
Women account for 88 per cent of the visitors of the clinics, who receive free legal advice and are eligible to free legal representation by qualified lawyers.
After receiving legal guidance, Asma decided to seek custody of her children. The legal aid clinic successfully helped her compile medical records that documented the on-going abuse, and helped her secure accommodation and funding from the Protection Department, which now provides her with a monthly allowance covering her rent.
Since she was awarded custody of her children, Asma has become very optimistic about restarting her life.
“I am a new-born woman. I am living with my children under one roof.” she says. “I will never forget the support I received from the legal aid clinic, without their help, I would have never obtained justice.”
By supporting the network of legal aid providers in the Gaza Strip (locally known as Awn), UNDP aims to provide Palestinians with the services they need to both access justice institutions and achieve justice within them. While the needs of individual clients differ, the provision of legal aid services aims at breaking the barriers that separate too many Palestinians from justice.
The UNDP Access to Justice programme is funded by the Governments of Sweden, Canada, Japan and Netherlands. This USD 25 million programme focuses on strengthening the various judicial entities including the Ministry of Justice, High Judicial Council and the attorney general’s office while ensuring that Palestinians have access to legal resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Through the establishment of courts and legal aid clinics, the programme is also building confidence and awareness so that people have information about their rights and legal principles in their communities.
* Not her real name