Thursday, April 29, 2010

Iraq: Iraqi detainees to get free legal aid

UN - Iraqi detainees can receive free assistance in mounting in their legal defences, thanks to a United Nations-backed scheme aimed to help vulnerable prisoners.

Late last year, 20 legal defence centres (LDCs) were set up in 16 of Iraq’s 18 governorates as part of the €6.4 million “Programme for the Protection of Detainees and Torture Victims” initiative implemented by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and funded by the European Union (EU).

The sites provide free services to those who do not have easy access to legal representation due to their financial, gender or family status.

Lawyers, legal consultants and representatives of the Iraqi Bar Association and civil society met in Amman, Jordan, today to “identify remaining challenges as well as ways to reach out further to detainees that fall through the cracks in the legal system,” according to Gerhard Pansegrouw, UNOPS’ Iraq Director.

Since its inception last September, more than 600 cases of vulnerable people in need of legal defence were referred to the LDCs by police, lawyers’ groups, courts, prisons, rehabilitation centres and shelters. Of them, 365 were found to be eligible to receive free legal representation.

Each LDC is operated by up to 7 lawyers, and legal consultations provided over the telephone have so far benefited nearly 1,400 people.

A lawyer from the governorate of Babil in central Iraq voiced hope that the programme will bolster the ties between civil society and legal authorities, such as the police and courts and pave the way for the “spread of a human rights culture in Iraq.”

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