Guaranteeing equal protection to vulnerable communities in Iraq

Iraqi woman waiting her turn to receive assistance
A woman waits for legal help in Erbil, Iraq. Women and other vulnerable communities now have access to justice through UNDP's legal help desks. (Photo: UNDP Iraq)

Laila, a mother of two, was physically abused for years by her husband, and even forced to seek treatment for injuries on a number of occasions.

The 28-year-old did not want to denounce her husband to the authorities out of fear he would take away or hurt their children.

In cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government and implementing partners, “Heartland Alliance” and the “Women Empowerment Organisation,” UNDP Iraq established three legal help desks in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk.

Highlights

  • Through the legal help desks, 7,300 Iraqis received advice and legal consultations on family legal matters (including divorce, alimony and child custody) and on criminal matters.
  • In total, 310 persons were offered full representation from the legal help desks
  • The programme is funded with US $150,000 from the European Union

Part of its “Access to Justice Programme for Vulnerable Iraqis,” the help desk teams included four Iraqi lawyers and a social worker who receive visits from Iraqis with no access to legal resources or means to achieve justice.

The Iraqi Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process of law to all citizens. Nevertheless, these remain unfulfilled promises for many people. Often Iraqis do not have an awareness of their legal rights, the knowledge of how to defend themselves or the financial means to afford representation.

Laila’s father, a religious leader who received training on women’s rights, requested assistance from a legal help desk. One of the desk’s lawyers filed for a divorce on Laila’s behalf, resulting in the successful return of Laila’s dowry, as well as alimony for her and her two children.

“Before I met a lawyer from the legal help desk, I wasn’t sure who I could turn to,” Laila said.

People of all ages, ethnicities and religions, men and women alike, were served by UNDP Iraq’s Access to Justice Legal Help Desks and Mobile Legal Clinics.

All over Iraqi Kurdistan, this project has benefitted approximately 7,300 citizens who received answers to queries and one-on-one legal consultations on family legal matters including divorce, alimony, child custody and on criminal matters.

In total, 310 persons were offered full representation at an Iraqi court by an Access to Justice lawyer.

Today, Laila has full custody of the two children and lives with her parents. She attends evening classes and hopes to one day support her children independently.

Her case highlights the need to raise awareness about women’s legal rights and gender-based violence at the community level.

“Thanks to the help desks, my family and I have been given the assistance to start a new life,” said Laila.

The programme covers the entire Kurdistan Region and is funded from the European Union with US $150,000. This is part of the European Union’s support to the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Iraq, where they have so far contributed 14 million Euros.

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