Working with local partners—including the Father Afif Osseirane Foundation, St. Joseph University’s Professional Center for Mediation and individual lawyers—the Northern Lebanon Public Service Center (NLPSC) provides legal assistance and mediation services to indigent and marginalized residents, such as stateless persons, juvenile defendants, at-risk youth and refugees. Since its opening in January 2010, the center, which the ABA Rule of Law Initiative helped establish, has handled more than 150 cases and conducted extensive outreach to non-governmental organizations and community groups, helping to raise awareness about the use of mediation in resolving disputes. It has also helped build the capacity of local law students and young lawyers through trainings and internships.
Thanks to a partnership between the center and the Father Afif Osseirane Foundation, judges are now frequently referring juvenile offenders who lack representation to the NLPSC. Additionally, center lawyers have been successful in obtaining alternative sentencing for juvenile offenders in more than 60% of the cases they handle. The center is also working with independent lawyers to assist Palestinian refugees and unregistered persons; it currently has more than 50 such cases.
By enabling lawyers and social service providers in northern Lebanon to more effectively represent disenfranchised communities, the program increases access to justice and promotes peaceful resolution of disputes through formal channels. The program also seeks to build and sustain such capacity in northern Lebanon
Since February 2008, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative has provided assistance to the Lebanese National Network for the Right of Access to Information to develop and advocate for legislation on access to information and whistleblower protection. The network seeks to gather consensus from within governmental and non-governmental sectors, private industry and the legal community, as well as boost public awareness and support for these public information initiatives.
The Network is composed of 17 governmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations committed to enhancing transparency and good governance. The Network’s legal working group has, with assistance from international experts, drafted two laws—one on access to information (submitted to Parliament in April 2009) and a second on whistleblower protection (submitted to Parliament on June 24 2010). The Network’s advocacy group has developed a range of programs and materials to enhance awareness about the purpose, content and value of the laws. Activities include a youth-led program to lobby parliamentarians, a Network website, training of media and civil servants, and a set of manuals to enhance understanding and implementation of the two laws.
In 2007 the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) supported the establishment of Lebanon’s first human rights clinical legal education program at the Faculty of Law at La Sagesse University in Beirut. The program is offered as a mandatory course to final year law students and comprises a semester of coursework in national and international human rights law and practical legal skills, along with a semester of clinical work administered through student externships at Lebanese and international NGOs.
Over a two-year period, ABA ROLI worked closely with La Sagesse University faculty on curriculum development and course implementation, while building capacity both within La Sagesse University and Lebanese civil society to continue the clinical program beyond ABA ROLI’s technical support. Since the end of the ABA ROLI program in December 2008 and as a testament to its success, the Faculty of Law at La Sagesse has continued to offer the human rights clinic.
Participating Lebanese students have increased their substantive knowledge of international human rights standards and the associated Lebanese legal framework allowing them to be better equipped to represent clients. Students’ advocacy skills improved through both practical skills coursework and their work with international and national organizations to monitor state compliance with human rights standards and to develop recommendations for law reform. Clinic students also provided training to hundreds of Lebanese youth on their legal rights and the rights of others. Above all, the clinical program has reached its goal of enhancing access to justice for Lebanon’s most vulnerable groups, including juveniles, migrant workers, and women. With ABA ROLI support, La Sagesse University faculty and students have also presented their work to law schools and organizations, both within Lebanon and across the Arab region, with several law faculties having shown great interest in establishing similar programs.