With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) implemented a criminal law reform program in Tajikistan from 2008 to 2012. The program focused on enhancing the protection of rights of criminal defendants by promoting criminal justice reform and increasing defense advocates’ capacity. ABA ROLI helped develop practical legal education curricula. We also helped organize, unify and strengthen the advocate collegia and provided access to other legal and research materials.
In 2006, ABA ROLI facilitated a course for defense advocate-trainers on substantive principles as well as interactive teaching methodology, including illustrative case studies that could be used in subsequent trainings. In January 2007, ABA ROLI organized an advocacy-skills training for defense advocates, which explored various aspects of trial advocacy, including witness preparation and international standards.
To further criminal procedure reform, ABA ROLI organized a criminal defense advocacy group, consisting mainly of defense advocates. With an oversight from ABA ROLI staff, the group conducted trial-skills and other substantive trainings for defense advocates, generated and implemented an ethics code for advocates and supported general efforts to advance criminal procedure reform.
In December 2009, with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) expanded its Tajikistan program, launching the Legal Education and Exchange Program (LEEP).
LEEP, which ended in 2012, grew out of INL’s recognition that the legal education system in Tajikistan was stagnant and ineffective at the time. The existing institutions largely relied on traditional teaching methodologies that lacked comparative education models and gave little direct exposure to the legal system. As a result, young legal professionals entering the work force lacked an understanding of the realities of the profession, knowledge of current national laws and international conventions, and they were not equipped with adequate substantive and practical skills to practice law effectively.
The program was designed to address these deficiencies by providing members of the criminal law community opportunities to enhance their practical skills, to discuss comparative legal systems and international standards and to gain a broader understanding of these concepts while forging relationships with their colleagues as well as with their American counterparts. ABA ROLI, including by cooperating with the International Research and Exchange Board, brought young future leaders on several short- and long-term study tours—including intensive English language and American law courses, and LL.M. programs, respectively—to the United States.
ABA ROLI also organized five training programs, known as Justice Forums, which discussed the basic structure and functioning of the U.S. judicial system and international standards. A total of 87 legal professionals participated in the Justice Forums, doing comparative examination of Tajikistani and U.S. legal systems. Led by ABA ROLI pro bono legal specialists, staff and guest lecturers, the forums were well-received, and at the request of Tajikistan’s legal community, they were held more frequently in the later years.
In 2008, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, launched a two-year program to promote gender equality in Tajikistan. The program, which supported the initiation of strategic litigation cases in local courts as well as international tribunals, boosted ongoing efforts to pass gender-equality legislation, and to effectively employ existing laws.
ABA ROLI worked with two local non-governmental organizations, INIS, an independent, local non-governmental organization that operates women’s legal advocacy centers, and the League of Women Lawyers, who hired three local lawyers to implement the program. The program educated rural women about their rights and challenged stereotypes and biases against women. It provided women access to justice through roving legal clinics. It also selected and litigated six cases to help bring attention to women’s rights and ran a concurrent awareness-raising media campaign.
Quarterly, program lawyers traveled to three remote districts—Faizabad, Khovaling and Muminobad—and, through visiting four-day pro bono legal clinics, informed citizens of their legal rights while training local attorneys in both substantive areas of the law and in trial techniques. Legal advice addressed topics of interest to women, including marriage, divorce, domestic violence, inheritance, employment discrimination and bureaucratic obstacles to travel. Cases appropriate for strategic litigation were identified and pursued to implement good laws and challenge bad ones.
Additionally, ABA ROLI retained the Theatre Padida, a well-known Tajikistani troupe, to produce and perform a theatrical production that addresses issues of gender equality. Theatre is a powerful medium in Tajikistan, especially in areas with limited access to television, radio or print media. The performances, which occurred simultaneously with the legal clinics, supplemented the program targeting rural regions. This program also promoted the protection of women’s rights through three Tajik language, long-format animated public service announcements broadcasted on the national TV Safina.
The program built on work done from 2003–2006 through a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor-supported program that created a legal support center for indigent and vulnerable women, assisted the League of Women Lawyers and other non-governmental organizations in advancing draft domestic-violence legislation and public advocacy activities advocating the implementation of a March 2005 gender equality law.