Posts filed under ‘Human Rights’

Where is the human rights movement heading to?

My good friend, Ed Rekosh of Cardozo Law School recently published a thoughtful and timely article on the current trends in the human rights world. His main interest is the declining business model of the human rights organisations. Most have been caught by surprise by the developments in the past couple of years – growing hostility to human rights, decreasing government funding and ideological shifts which leave the human rights movement into a conundrum.

Most importantly Ed is discussing the possible ways ahead. Innovative products such as ‘apps that facilitate human rights monitoring through collecting, analyzing and organizing around big data” is particularly apt and timely idea. Human rights are normative values but also can be seen as events around which information amasses. Smart and creative uses of such information can ‘productize’ the human rights idea and give the human rights defenders valuable tool for fund-raising and financial sustainability.

Here are all 6 proposals for a new paradigm for (self)funding human rights  organisations:

  1. Return to traditional forms of organizing that are less dependent on expensive, professionalized operations, in some cases harnessing trends in professional “pro bono” volunteering.

  2. Embrace peer-to-peer and crowd-sourcing technology, through crowdfunding platforms, hashtag campaigns and apps that facilitate human rights monitoring through collecting, analyzing and organizing around big data.

  3. Develop membership-based models for local fundraising, like Amnesty International-India and other NGOs in the global South have begun to do.

  4. Create new sources of revenue through entrepreneurial approaches to generate fee-for-services revenue.

  5. Disrupt abusive business practices in a particular industry, such as employment of migrant domestic helpers, by setting up alternative, socially responsible businesses.

  6. Support strategies that leverage the influence of investors, consumers, large companies and global brands, as Oxfam and other NGOs have done on a number of issues


January 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

UN Special Rapporteur: “The rule of law is meaningless for people living in poverty without effective access to justice”

Less than a week before the UN high-level meeting on the Rule of Law, Magdalena Sepúlveda, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty,  emphasized on the importance of access to justice. In her recent report Dr. Sepúlveda claims that ““The rule of law is meaningless for people living in poverty without effective access to justice, which is a human right in itself, and essential for tackling poverty”. Furthermore, she urges the UN member states to take measures and guarantee that “poverty is never a barrier to enjoying the benefits of the rule of law”. To achieve this goals the report recommends bold steps towards securing access to justice for the poorest and most marginalised individuals and groups.

Read here more about the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and access to justice

September 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm Leave a comment

Leiden University: Summer School on Human Rights and Transitional Justice

From 2 to 6 July 2012 the Leiden University, Campus The Hague organises Summer school with focus on:

  • The right to truth and access to justice
  • Human rights approaches to justice
  • Fairness, remedies and transitional societies
  • Truth, justice and rule of law reform

To apply for the Summer School on Human Rights and Transitional Justice email to

June 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

Legal tools for early access to justice in Europe

Recognising that in most European countries, criminal suspects do not enjoy full and unrestricted access to legal assistance during the initial stages of a criminal investigation, the Open Society Justice Initiative developed and translated template briefs. Here is the announcement from the Legal Aid Reformers Network:

The Open Society Justice Initiative believes that litigation can be used to reinforce the fundamental human rights that underpin an open and just society.

In order to help lawyers working on human rights issues, we are developing a series of “template briefs” which offer the legal framework for litigation that seeks to bring domestic justice systems and practice in line with international legal standards.

Our first template brief focuses on early access to legal representation in Europe for people accused or suspected of crimes. It provides the current European and international legal standards, and we encourage lawyers to use the research and arguments in this brief to support domestic litigation.

Read more about the legal tools for early access to justice in Europe here.

May 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Draft United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems

The UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice has recently adopted Draft Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. Undoubtedly, this is an important step towards recognition and respect of the right to access to justice in criminal proceedings. The Principles and Guidelines aim to ensure that the States adopt measures and establish systems which effectively provide suspects, defendants but also victims of crimes with timely and efficient access to legal information, advice and representation. Recognising the gaps between norms and real life the document calls not only for normative recognition of legal aid systems but also for proper funding and management of the national legal aid systems.

“Access to a properly funded legal aid scheme is vital if those with minimal financial means are to access justice. Now, thanks to years of work and diplomatic efforts,  UN member states have agreed that legal aid schemes are not just optional; they should be a basic part of any country’s justice system.”

It is also recognized that access to justice in criminal proceedings should be guaranteed through various measures. In that respect the draft Principles and Guidelines emphasise on the need to diversify sources of legal assistance:

” The Principles and Guidelines do not endorse any specific model but encourage States to guarantee the basic right to legal aid of suspects and the accused, while expanding it to include others who come into contact with the criminal justice system and diversifying its delivery schemes.”

According to the Principles and Guidelines States should take responsibility to guarantee:
–  provision of sustainable funding for legal assistance schemes;
– recognize the role of paralegals (although the document sort of limits it to countries where there are not enough lawyers);
– effective oversight of legal aid providers;
– engage in partnership with non-state providers;
– facilitate rigorous data collection and research with respect to the supply and demand of legal assistance.

Read the Draft United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems here

April 30, 2012 at 11:42 am Leave a comment

Traditional Courts Bill sparks controversies in South Africa

The Traditional Courts Bill was first introduced in 2008. Recently it was reintroduced and according to its sponsors the Bill should become effective as of the end of 2012. The Bill repeals the Black Administration Act of 1927 – no doubt, a long overdue task.

In a nutshell, the Bill regulates the institution of a traditional court. The minister responsible for the administration of justice designates a senior traditional leader, king or queen! to preside over the traditional court. Traditional courts will have jurisdiction to hear certain civil matters (exceptions are constitutional matters, divorce, alimony, custody or guardianship of minor children etc.) as well as some criminal offences such as theft, malicious damage to property, damages not exceeding certain limits and assault which did not result into bodily injury.

When deciding upon disagreements traditional courts should apply customary law and customs. Through bringing justice to the communities the Bill aims to:

  • Affirm the values of traditional justice which is based on restorative justice and reconciliation. In the language of the Bill, restorative justice and reconciliation are true African justice values;
  • Affirm the role of the institution of traditional leadership;
  • Enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and integrity of the traditional justice system;
  • Enhancement of the quality of life of the traditional communities through mediation;
  • Promote access to justice for all persons in South Africa.

As foreseen in the Bill, traditional courts should prevent conflict, maintain harmony and resolve disputes where they have occurred. For instance, the sanctions imposed by the Traditional courts cannot be inhumane, banish one of the parties from the community or be humiliating (corporal punishment is explicitly outlawed).

If the Bill were passed as it is, the Traditional courts will have a colourful array of resolutions from which they can select in order to solve the outstanding disputes. For instance, they can impose fines which might be expressed in money but also in livestock. Traditional courts will also be able to order an unconditional apology or service in the benefit of the community.

The Bill includes certain procedural rights which should ensure the fairness and justness of the trial. The full rights of women are specifically acknowledged. Here, it should be noted that the Bill envisages only procedural rights. Substantive rights are all in the domain of customary law. Ultimately, all resolutions of the Traditional courts can be appealed to the magistrates’ courts.

Supporters of the Traditional Courts Bill emphasise its potential to bring justice closer to the communities. Zolani Mkiva, head of the presidency of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa alleges that traditional leaders will be unbiased in their role of neutrals solving disputes in Traditional Courts. “With any form of unfairness, people are free to take it to another level”.

Many observers, however, disagree with the intentions and approach of the Bill. Their arguments come from different directions. Some challenge the wisdom of centralization of local powers in the hands of non-elected and unaccountable traditional leaders. Moreover, the structure of the traditional courts centralizes significant powers to a single individual. It is not difficult to see traditional leaders disposing justice despite of conflicts of interests.

Others challenge the patriarchical fundaments of the institute of traditional leadership in South Africa and warn that such institutions can further harm the interests of women and other vulnerable groups such as foreigners who make sizeable proportion of the population of many rural areas. An example of the attitude that some traditional leaders might have towards women is a story from Prudhoe village, where an eight-month pregnant woman tried to claim damages from the man who made her pregnant and then abandoned her. The tribal court decided that she was just speculating with the good name of the man. Also the court said that the man’s father is rich and important and it is not desirable for the community to “pull their family name in the mud”. At the end, instead of being given relief, the pregnant woman was sentenced to corporal punishment.

Third argument against the Traditional Courts Bill as it is now is that it will basically force rural communities into an experiment with Traditional courts. Indeed, there is the appeal path but one immediately might ask how many of the poor, uninformed and disempowerered people will ever think of appealing the resolution of a Traditional Court.



March 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

Access to justice jobs: Internships at the European Union Agency for fundamental rights

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency is now receiving applications for internships at their differet departments including the Access to justice unit. Applications can be submitted untill 17 February 13:00 CET.

Here are some useful instructions:

You can apply for only one of the FRA departments, incl. the Directorate (please follow the link to see information about the different departments). Candidates applying for more than one department will be automatically rejected.

For further information on how to apply, please refer to the general Application Instructions.

Read more about the internships at the EU Agency for fundametal rights here

January 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Free legal advice and assistance for Russian protesters

Several Russian human rights ogranisations, among which the Public Verdict Foundation, Memorial, Moscow Helsinki Groep, as well as private lawyers teamed up to provide ad hoc legal aid to participants in the election protests. Those who are protesting in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and many other Russian cities can count on legal support in case the auhorities violate their rights. Lawyers from the participating organisations can be reached by phone, e-mail or skype or directly on the squares where the protests take place. There are also human rights lawyers maintaining a phone line from Strasburg to consult on eventual violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Similar to the Arab Spring social media plays huge role here. The legal aid coalition was created and announced via Facebook page.

December 18, 2011 at 9:16 pm Leave a comment

EU agrees on European Miranda warning

Nowadays the 27 European Union member-states treat differently (see a comparative research conducted by Prof. Taru Spronken as well as here) suspects in criminal proceedings. Some states are more diligent in informing the suspects about their fair-trial rights, in others the rights to legal assistance, interpretation and translation are conveyed very formally if at all. New draft directive will introduce Europe-wide Letter of Rights. Its main purpose is to assure that all suspects in criminal proceedings are promptly and effectively informed about some of the most important rights that might affect the development of the whole process. Althought the text is still a draft, the EU Parliament web site tells us about its basic structure:

“The Letter of Rights for suspected and accused persons should include:

  • the right to an interpreter and to a translation of the documents, if the person does not understand the language,

  • any entitlement to legal advice,

  • the right to be informed of the conditions for obtaining it free of charge,

  • the right to be informed of the accusation, and

  • the right to remain silent.

In the event of deprivation of liberty, the arrested person will have the following additional rights:

  • the right of access to the evidentiary material related to the case,

  • the right to contact relatives, employers and consular authorities,

  • the right to medical care,

  • the right to bail,

  • the right to be informed on how many hours/days the person may be deprived of liberty before being brought before a judicial authority,

  • the right to be informed on how he/she can challenge the arrest and how to obtain a review of the detention, including the time limits for doing so provided under national law, and

  • the right to be informed on the maximum period of pre-trial detention applicable to his/her case.

The text of the Letter of Rights will be translated in all 23  languages of the EU. When adopted the new directive should be applicable to more than 8 million criminal proceedings annually throughout the EU.

Read more about the Letter of Rights here. Indicative text of the Letter of Rights can be found here (scroll to the bottom of the page)

November 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm 1 comment

UN Women Report: Justice still out of reach for millions of women

July 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm Leave a comment

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