Bar Associations and NGOs Come Together in ILAP 2nd Regional Meeting to Provide Legal Aid to Victims of Violence

June 23, 2021

The Regional Meeting started with the opening remarks delivered by Adv. Mr. Ünsal TOKER, Vice-President of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (UTBA); Mr. Ramazan GÜRKAN, Head of Department of Victims’ Rights of the Ministry of Justice; Ms. Malin STAWE, Counsellor at Embassy of Sweden to Ankara; and Ms. Burcu DİRAOR AYDIN, UNDP Inclusive and Democratic Governance Portfolio Manager.

Noting that the establishment of legal aid centres was about to be completed and personnel were assigned, Mr. Ünsal TOKER stated that as UTBA’s continued discussions with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry was on the matter, and once legal aid rooms were operationalized, the practice would be rolled out across the country.

Mr. Ramazan GÜRKAN, Head of Department of Victims’ Rights of the Ministry of Justice, stated that the units were created within the Ministry of Justice after the Presidential Decree. The units, now operational at 114 courthouses would work with crime victims and vulnerable groups. Such units employed psychologists, sociologists and experts to provide more professional and qualified service to crime victims and the intention was to increase the capacity of human resources by 100% with the participation of new experts in the future.

Mr. Ramazan GÜRKAN said: “Our aim is to establish directorates and complete the organisational structure, but quality of the work is crucial. Especially in the current situation, there is an approach in CCP lists that every lawyer takes up any case. An important step was taken with the project and the customization of lists was raised. Thanks to customized lists, vulnerable groups including particularly women in pilot provinces will receive higher quality legal aid services.”

Noting that the Ministry of Justice took many steps in this process, Mr. GÜRKAN stated that Injunction Courts were designated and it was decided that such work be processed through designated judges and now in this practice for a year; the Ministry of Interior established Domestic Violence units at law enforcement offices; ŞÖNİMs were functioning actively; the pieces were completed eventually by creating Violence Prevention Centres (VPCs) also in the defence side (lawyer).

Emphasizing that it would be beneficial if VPCs took part in coordination meetings of the Ministry given the progress made in the ILAP Project, Mr. Ramazan GÜRKAN underlined that the likelihood of success will increase to the extent that people in the field work in coordination and identify high risk cases.

Ms. Malin STAWE, Counsellor at Embassy of Sweden to Ankara, stated that violence was a problem that called for combating across the world. Emphasizing that regional workshops was a perfect opportunity to combine different perspectives in the society and produce common discourse, Ms. STAWE said that the benefits of VPCs would be seen all together after becoming operational soon, and local coordination would be crucial at this point.

Expressing that another important point at this stage of the project is to ensure visibility of VPCs, Ms. Malin STAWE said: “We trust on opinions of the participants to ensure the visibility of centres in a few months.” Then, she concluded: “We, as Sweden, are proud of being partner of and donor to the project.”

Ms. Burcu DİRAOR AYDIN, UNDP Inclusive and Democratic Governance Portfolio Manager, indicated that they were greatly honoured to support the improvement of legal aid services under the Sustainable Development Goals and to work with the Ministry of Justice, UTBA and SIDA. She said: “Sustainable Development Goal 16 emphasizes peace, justice and strong institutions. At this point, it would be unrealistic to expect sustainable development in this field without a strong structure for human rights and rule of law. It is crucial to eliminate problems of disadvantaged groups on access to services and to work with public authorities, NGOs and citizens for lasting solutions. Therefore, systems - mechanisms - to be designed with effective participation of all institutions are at the heart of our work.”

Emphasizing that legal aid programs implemented in various countries in the world by UNDP facilitated access of people with service needs to services by making these programs closer to them, Ms. AYDIN also indicated that one of the most important requirements was to support groups with high vulnerability and leave no one behind.

After the opening remarks, the following civil society representatives delivered their message on gender-based violence to the community:

  • Ms. Sema KENDİRCİ, Chair of the Turkish Women's Union
  • Ms. Nuray KARAOĞLU, Chair of the Association for Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER)
  • Ms. Gülsüm KAV, Representative of We Will Stop Femicide Platform
  • Ms. Halime GÜNER, Head of Flying Broom Foundation

The civil society representatives emphasized the following common points:

  • NGOs generally have difficulty to establish relationship with Bar Associations and the project strengthens the perspective of Bar Association on cooperation with NGOs.
  • NGO-Bar Association cooperation is a key element in the project’s objective of promoting VPCs and it is important that local NGOs are in promotion works.
  • It is important to strengthen the relevant articles of Law No. 6284 and CEDAW as well as the current situation of Istanbul Convention. NGOs need active participation of Bar Associations in learning legal safeguards that women and girls must know and implement.
  • The project contributes to the implementation of Law No. 6284 along with its existing improvements.
  • It is required to address Bar Association-NGO relations at institutional level instead of individual connections. The project and VPCs will be able to be a tool which ensure this connection in application.
  • It is required to increase accessible channels in which women are a part of VPCs in both access to justice and combating violence. Many elements from specific lines for violence to mobilizing different professional groups of society will be able to be used in this field.
  • The number of NGOs working on violence against women is rather low compared to the overall number of NGOs. Hence, communication-interaction between NGOs is also an important requirement. It is an accelerator for the solution of problem that NGOs functioning as a bridge between civil society and decision makers are listened more or paid attention by professional associations like decision makers and Bar Associations.

In the Regional Meeting, presentations were made by project experts on the fields of NGO-Bar Association cooperation, works under the project, visibility of centres and expectations in the upcoming period.

In the second half of the event, the opinions and contributions were elicited from the representatives of NGOs and Bar Associations on thematic areas. In this framework, group work was conducted on local coordination between NGOs and Bar Associations and making the centres visible. Participants from pilot provinces posed their questions to the project team in the thematic works, and at the same time, shared their opinions in group themes.

About Support to the Improvement of Legal Aid Practices for Access to Justice for All in Turkey Phase II (ILAP Phase II):

It is aimed to improve legal aid practices against gender-based violence by the project implemented by the Ministry of Justice, Union of Turkish Bar Associations and United Nations Development Programme with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

The project mainly focuses on four areas for the required improvement on efficient and qualified legal aid services, namely: 1) coordination between stakeholders, 2) structured system for services provision, 3) capacity development of the service providers and 4) awareness rising on performance management and evaluation mechanisms in legal aid services.

ILAP project will ensure that centres are established in 7 provinces (Antalya, Balıkesir, Denizli, Mardin, Nevşehir, Samsun, Rize) which will provide legal aid to violence victims to deliver legal aid services effectively as well as needs assessments, networking and cooperation activities to increase coordination of Bar Associations and NGOs working on gender-based violence. Moreover, tailor-made training programmes will be implemented for the purpose of developing the capacities of lawyers against gender-based violence and the performance criteria and evaluation mechanism for legal aid services and automation system for appointment of CCP lawyers will be strengthened.