An Orphan’s Words Fuel a Jordanian Lawyer’s Passion

November 2012

In summer 2012, when Jordanian lawyer Rami Al Hashmi asked Laila, a young orphan, why she repeatedly committed petty crimes, her answer stopped him in his tracks. Laila said, “I do them again and again to go back to prison where there is food and shelter.”

Jordanian lawyer Rami Al Hashmi

Jordanian lawyer Rami Al Hashmi.

Laila’s desperate admission illustrates how discriminatory practices, such as assigning orphans and other children of unknown origins—including children who are illegitimate or products of rape—special numbers on their national identity cards, impact their lives. Instantly recognizable to employers, schools and government agencies, this number underscored these children’s instability and encouraged discrimination.

As a then-volunteer attorney with the National Center for Human Rights (National Center), Rami had heard many stories from citizens in need of legal services, but the orphan’s words echoed almost daily. They motivated him to work harder to help her and others in similar situations, leading him to embrace the National Center’s successful campaign to petition the government to end discriminatory practices targeting orphans and similarly situated children.

“I am the son of a tribe in southern Jordan, whose human rights are violated,” says Rami as he discusses his motivation for defending human rights. Rami lives in Madaba, a town south of Jordan’s capital city, where he believes the traditional mindsets that marginalize women and children are stronger than in Amman and are exacerbated by fewer opportunities for building awareness and for equitable development.

This human rights work represents a major shift in Rami’s legal career. He graduated from the law faculty at the University of Jordan in 2008, later completing the required two-year post-graduation training for attorneys. After working for a time in the legal department of a local bank, he opened a law office specializing in small commercial and labor law cases. While Rami had always been interested in human rights issues and helping society in general—and women and minors in particular—he had never combined this concern with his professional work.

In June 2012, Rami heard from a friend that the National Center was hosting a two-day human rights course for young lawyers in the south of Jordan. The workshop, supported by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), is part of a larger program to build a comprehensive understanding of national and international human rights laws and their application among Jordanian legal professionals.

“This was the first opportunity to participate in human rights discussions that had been offered to me and to my colleagues—most of whom had never heard of the National Center or its work,” Rami confesses. “I wanted to learn more and work on raising awareness among the people of my city.” Rami was one of 19 lawyers who discussed human rights concepts and their relevance to Jordan during the Petra workshop. Rami describes the course as “a valuable opportunity [that] presented the most important human rights issues and cases, specifically trafficking in persons and labor and worker issues.” He also commends the practical exercises that allowed him to practice receiving complaints and pleading them before the judiciary, as well as learning about the roles of the public prosecutor, the defense attorney and civil society institutions in such cases.

The experience inspired Rami to follow up on his interest in human rights. He requested and was granted a three-month volunteer position with the National Center. Rami soon found helping those community members who desperately need legal assistance, like Laila, more gratifying than his commercial law work. Thanks to the work of Rami and others at the center, and subsequent publicity surrounding the plight of orphans, the Jordanian Royal Court intervened and now citizens are able to ask for national identity numbers that do not reveal their status. 

Rami’s contributions during this campaign impressed the National Center’s staff, and in September 2012, he was offered a formal position as a legal consultant on a new effort targeting girls and women in need of assistance. Tracing his recent life-changing career shift to his participation in the ABA ROLI workshop, Rami says, “I hope that such courses will [continue to] be held because they are needed so that citizens can understand their own rights and defend the rights of others.” 

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