Creating access to justice in Swat

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Accessing justice can often be a slow and expensive process in Pakistan, with cases often tied up in courts for years. Many people are unaware of their legal rights. In areas of the country where women traditionally do not participate in public life, they face additional difficulties in exercising their legal rights. Such challenges not only make it difficult for many in Pakistan to resolve disputes fairly, they reduce trust between communities and the government.

In Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Ahmad Dost Khan is working to rebuild this trust and provide access to justice for his fellow citizens. By profession a farmer, he is also a social worker and has been certified as a paralegal after completing a course at the University of Malakand.

As a community-based paralegal, Khan has resolved about 20 cases within his community. “I have resolved domestic issues, problems faced by women in getting their stipends through BISP [Benazir Income Support Programme, a poverty reduction programme], issues faced by working women and inheritance cases, with the help of other community members,” he says.

Khan achieved his certification through a course organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the European Union in December 2016. Through this initiative, UNDP aims to strengthen the rule of law in Malakand, the administrative area including Swat, which was ravaged by militancy in recent years. The project also operates in southern districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province which have also been affected by insecurity. To date, 200 paralegals (46.5 percent of them women) have been trained and provided services to 1,092 people.

The paralegal course has provided Khan with valuable skills to mediate between parties, deal with public bodies and help individuals assert their rights. “I wish to have a society where everyone knows his/her fundamental rights, where people are aware of the social justice and about all the available facilities,” he says.

He is highly conscious of the barriers women face in exercising their rights, and his role in helping overcome these barriers. “Paralegals are the people selected to serve humanity, we struggle hard to facilitate our society, there are many issues related to women that need attention and support, so we try to reach to every minor problem related to women. I strongly believe that in future there will be more empowered women, aware about their legal rights.”

To support this, he hopes that the paralegal programme remains sustainable, with its certification recognized, networks established to share information, and more women trained as paralegals.

As a social worker, he also conducts career counselling at colleges and universities to help young people choose their careers and enter the workforce, and is joined in this effort by his daughter, a student herself. He also helps community members obtain their Sehat Insaaf Cards which guarantee free healthcare, finding that many people are simply not aware of this service. “it is important for community to get aware on the basic facilities available for them,” he says.

With support from the European Union, United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the UK Department for International Affairs, UNDP’s Strengthening Rule of Law project seeks to build public trust and confidence in justice. Working with informal justice institutions, the project helps communities to settle disputes, and creates links between formal and informal justice mechanisms.

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