Poor countries and vulnerable communities rarely have the resources to use law effectively as a tool for change and development. ISLP sees this as an essential area where pro bono experts can provide targeted legal assistance to support and strengthen efforts by nongovernmental organizations and developing country governments around the world to protect human rights and promote respect for law. ISLP projects: advance and protect the rights of vulnerable communities; train and mentor human rights advocates; protect the rights of women, the disabled, indigenous populations and others who are persecuted or discriminated against; improve legal aid representation for the poor; address access to information and freedom of expression; assist local governments in adopting and revising laws; and build the capacities of ministries and the judiciary.
ISLP Finds Serious Violations of Fair Trial Rights for Cambodian Garment Workers
ISLP, with the expert support of Destination Justice, monitored and issued a report on the trials of 23 Cambodian nationals who were arrested, criminally charged, and convicted in connection with the garment worker protests of January 2014. The report expresses strong concern as to the fairness of the April-May 2014 trials. Issues include the lack of due process and failure of the government to provide an independent and impartial tribunal. It also notes serious serious irregularities with regard to pretrial detention, access to medical care, and several other basic principles of criminal justice and human rights.
“We are concerned that the defendants in this case were treated unfairly on account of their participation in the protests,” said ISLP Executive Director Garth Meintjes. “The absence of a presumption of innocence, the failure to afford the defense the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, and the judge’s decision to raise new, more serious charges at the end of the trial all point to a lack of respect for fundamental criminal justice norms.” Read the full report here.
Advancing public interest litigation in Cambodia and Kenya
Public interest litigation (PIL) can raise awareness of issues, hold governments to account and challenge laws that violate equality or human rights standards. A vivid example of PIL in practice is a current ISLP collaboration in Cambodia.
The country is in the grip of a land-grabbing crisis where the government and private developers often operate together to displace entire communities from their land, forcibly and without compensation or color of law. Recognizing their limited recourse to justice within Cambodia, local NGOs came to ISLP for help in developing a litigation strategy to hold foreign companies accountable for their role in illegal land takings. The resulting plan is an action filed in U.K. courts on behalf of 200 dispossessed villagers against a U.K. sugar company that acquired produce from confiscated lands. <More>
ISLP has also partnered with the Nairobi-based NGO African Center for International Legal and Policy Research and the International Association of Constitutional Law on a workshop for high-level members of Kenya's judiciary. Volunteer Andrew Scherer led discussions with the justices on public interest litigation (PIL): how PIL can promote and protect the principal rights embodied in Kenya's Constitution and challenges relating to litigating/adjudicating PIL cases.
"It became clear," recounted Mr. Scherer (pictured) "that the judges were deeply concerned with understanding the mechanics of public interest litigation as well as the substantive law regarding social and economic rights. The judges were very engaged and peppered me with questions...on how they might, within their role as judges, work to advance access to justice, which is in fact the responsibility of the judiciary under the new constitution."
Building the foundations of Liberia's health sector
After enduring 14 years of violent civil war, Liberia's government is taking steps to rebuild its devastated health sector. Aiding the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in several areas is a pro bono team from Hogan Lovells which has been led since 2007 by partners Phil Katz and Bob Leibenluft. When Liberia recently launched a national mental health action plan, the Hogan Lovells team met with the Ministry's General Counsel and various stakeholders about the structure, content and underlying policy objectives of the related legislation and is assisting with early drafting efforts. Other projects involve support to the national authority tasked with developing high-priority regulations governing pharmaceutical products and medical equipment and helping to draft reproductive health legislation and streamline contracting processes.
Pictured: Hogan Lovells partner Bob Leibenluft (right) with a member of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare
Developing accessibility regulations for the disabled in Haiti
Since 2010, Paul-Claude Bérubé, an attorney from Québec has worked with the Haitian Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons With Disabilities on the implementation of groundbreaking new regulations regarding the rights of the disabled. Mr. Bérubé provided significant assistance in the drafting of the regulations and has returned multiple times to meet with stakeholders in ten provinces to discuss accessibility standards, the legal protections they afford, and their practical application in daily life.
Pictured: Paul-Claude Bérubé (left) with Haitian lawyer Jean Vandal