Access to Justice and Human Rights Strategies

Improving access to justice for the most vulnerable members of society


In the wake of the country’s civil war, the government of Burundi initiated a major disarmament and reintegration program for child soldiers. This program has made significant progress in reducing the number of child soldiers; but unfortunately, many more are still not fully reintegrated in society. We work to enhance the legal system’s capacity to better address the situation. ABA ROLI trains judges, prosecutors and the police to better prepare them for the unique issues that arise in dealing with former child soldiers. ABA ROLI also helps train and fund legal professionals to defend former child soldiers who are awaiting trial on criminal charges stemming from their actions during the civil war. Furthermore, ABA ROLI works to provide former child soldiers with social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical rehabilitation services.


ABA ROLI supports the high-impact Public Interest Legal Advocacy Program (PILAP) in Cambodia. PILAP builds cases and brings class action lawsuits to publicize human rights violations, primarily illegal land seizures. Its involvement in high-profile cases has earned significant attention from the media and the international legal development community. For instance, PILAP represented 78 Cambodian families who lived on the island of Koh Pich in their effort to receive just compensation for a proposed redevelopment of their land. Following extensive negotiations, PILAP settled this case for most families in 2005. The move was one of the first collective legal actions in Cambodia to help a community assert its rights to its land.


In 2002, a temporary amendment to Macedonia’s Law on Citizenship permitted long-term, stateless residents to apply for citizenship. In 2005–2006, taking advantage of this legislative development, ABA ROLI implemented a program to assist members of Macedonia’s largely stateless Roma population to obtain citizenship. ABA ROLI trained volunteer legal professionals and representatives of local non-governmental organizations to assist in citizenship applications and helped more than 1,000 previously stateless persons file for citizenship.

Increasing local capacity to provide legal services


To address legal aid needs in Azerbaijan, ABA ROLI created a legal advocacy center (LAC) in 2006. ABA ROLI trains recent law school graduates to work as LAC lawyers, focusing primarily on bringing human rights cases on behalf of indigent persons. The lawyers represent clients in civil disputes concerning family law, immigration, land and pension rights, and employment. They consult clients and prepare applications, appeals, legal memos, motions and complaint letters. So far, LAC has assisted more than 3,000 clients. The center also conducts community trainings and conferences. LAC lawyers have hosted business law training for rural women and constitutional rights and human trafficking trainings to local civil society groups.


To broaden access to legal services to rural and remote parts of Moldova, ABA ROLI introduced the traveling lawyers program in 2001. Through the program, seven lawyers travel to rural villages once a week and provide free consultations and court representation to indigent clients, focusing on disputes related to employment, family law, land use and government benefits. The lawyers also educate villagers about their legal rights.


ABA ROLI’s major initiatives in China have supported greater public interest advocacy and citizens’ rights awareness. One of the earliest programs led to China’s first municipal-level regulations on environmental public participation. ABA ROLI support also enabled the launch of networks of volunteer lawyers working on children’s and migrant workers’ rights. ABA ROLI supported the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA) in the inauguration of its Environmental and Resources Law Committee. Together with ACLA’s Criminal Law Committee, we successfully introduced China’s first online skills training courses for criminal defense lawyers and a bar-supported online resource center for lawyers representing death penalty defendants. ABA ROLI activities seek to build indigenous capacity—individual, institutional and structural—to protect citizens’ rights and to promote social justice and good governance. Thus, working closely with local partners to identify and design programs that respond to their priorities, ABA ROLI has contributed to important developments and reforms in the areas of good governance and citizens’ rights advocacy.

Promoting and protecting human rights


ABA ROLI has worked with La Sagesse University faculty in Lebanon to develop and implement a course focusing on substantive national and international human rights law, skills training, clinical practice, research and outreach. This program introduces law students to core human rights concepts and their application, with the aim of developing a culture of public interest advocacy. ABA ROLI, in cooperation with Lebanese law professors and legal and human rights experts, developed a curriculum emphasizing interactive teaching techniques such as role play, simulations and moot court exercises. The curriculum also includes a clinical phase during which students provide human rights-related pro bono services. ABA ROLI has also sponsored human rights moot court competitions for La Sagesse law students.


ABA ROLI’s street law-type program teaches law students to provide human rights trainings at secular and Islamic secondary schools. The program seeks to strengthen the rule of law by encouraging secondary school students to become aware of their fundamental rights and their protection, and to develop respect and passion for public interest advocacy. Lessons address topics such as constitutional rights, the Kyrgyz legal system and detainees’ rights. Participants of the street law program have also, through the schools where they teach, provided pro bono representation.


ABA ROLI leads efforts to combat extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines through a series of multi-sector summits and targeted forensics training. ABA ROLI is hosting seven regional summits—with participants including non-governmental organization representatives, prosecutors, journalists and human rights activists—to raise awareness of EJKs, to enhance communication and coordination among key groups and to increase understanding of the Writ of Amparo, a legal tool which requires a government agency such as the police or the military to conduct due diligence to ensure that a missing person is not in their custody. In addition to legal training, ABA ROLI has arranged for a top international forensics expert to train Philippine lawyers and civil society members on basic crime scene preservation techniques and effective use of physical evidence.