“Access to legal aid will be a topic at my Friday’s prayer”

Mazar-e Sharif, April 2013. Noor S., a 53-year old mullah from the Khulm District in Balkh Province, is full of praise for EUPOLs legal aid workshop: “It is very helpful for me and I would like to receive more information on legal aid issues such as the role of defense lawyers – to get the legal aid topic across on Friday during the prayer.” It has been one of the encouraging statements at the two day workshop called “The Rights to Access to Defense Lawyers” (ATLAS) in Mazar, conducted by EUPOL Rule of Law (RoL) in cooperation with the German International Cooperation (GIZ). 30 participants from CID Police, Huquq Offices (Directorate of Justice/Balkh Province), Balkh Prosecution Office, District Governor Office, Haj (Religious Affairs) Department, amongst them several mullahs from five districts of Balkh Province, attended the EUPOL RoL event. The participants of this 4th ATLAS workshop reached results as providing helpful contribution how to transfer knowledge and awareness about legal aid issues in general to the non-urban population. It was the first ATLAS held for participants coming from the districts.

The Head of the lawyers’ association in Balkh Province AIBA (Afghanistan Independent Bar Association), Babur Shah Kohdamani, considers the outcome of these two days a big step forward to increase the awareness for the need of legal aid also covering the district level. Babur Shah Kohdamani welcomes – from his point of view – two important improvements: “On one hand we are aiming at a modernization of the mullahs’ legal awareness, driven by modern legal aid awareness as a part of state law and so we are enabling them to match both Sharia law with state law. On the other hand for the first time we are addressing to the people their own rights in terms of legal aid.” Also from EUPOL’s side another advantage of the cooperation with the prayers is to reach the people on district level, where – beside the schools – the mosques are the main stage to get the messages across. “Furthermore we have seen, that before we started this work with the mullahs, they didn’t show a huge interest in these legal aid topics. Due to this workshop they changed their mind and will strengthen the legal aid awareness in their areas of responsibility, combining Sharia law with state law,” the AIBA Head comments.

Rule of Law mentor Anna-Jutta Lengsfeld explains the approach of EUPOL’s ATLAS programme: “Within the framework of EUPOL’s RoL/Justice promotion the access to legal aid will become more and more a cornerstone on the way to a functioning citizen related law system.” EUPOL intends to set impulses how to advance legal aid on district levels, explains Anna: “We are aiming at the elders and mullahs with their strong traditional values to provide legal aid awareness also to this target group. And at least more efforts will be undertaken to involve even the more remote districts of Balkh Province and offer an ATLAS workshop also to those.”