The lack of access to legal counsel for poor men, women, and children accused of crimes is a serious problem in post-conflict countries. These people routinely languish in detention for months or years without trial, and face torture, coerced confessions, and wrongful convictions. This project will allow the ILF to expand into new countries with no functioning legal aid systems, and work to establish legal aid programs that provide effective, quality criminal defense services to the poor.
International law and the laws of most countries provide for the presumption of innocence; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be detained arbitrarily; and the right to legal representation. Yet all countries face challenges in implementing the right to counsel, including limited funding, few qualified lawyers, and a lack of education on the importance of effective representation. Without quality criminal defense services, the rights of the poor to a fair trial routinely go undefended.
The ILF creates effective criminal legal aid systems through a unique approach which changes behaviors as well as systems, developing a strong local defense bar through intensive mentoring while building sustainable public defender systems. This project will allow us to go into five countries emerging from conflict, including Myanmar, Liberia, and South Sudan, to assess their criminal justice systems, document rights abuses, and develop plans to establish legal aid programs in those countries.
The proposed project will have a direct impact on the thousands of poor men, women, and children throughout the world who are accused of crimes and need access to effective legal representation. It will also have a far-reaching impact on the stability of the countries emerging from conflict and in transition, as it will help ensure a fair trial for the poor and most vulnerable, build public confidence in the criminal justice system, and strengthen the rule of law.