Legal assistance can be indispensible for human rights defenders who are unable to personally find the resources to represent themselves fairly against legal processes that can be biased or corrupt. Legal assistance can be done either by providing a lawyer or by offering financial support to cover legal fees or related expenses at the national, regional and international level.
Some organizations have provided financial assistance to defenders to cover attorney fees, bail, prison visits, medication and clothes in prison, identify lawyers willing to work pro bono, assist with the development of strategies for the litigation of the cases and support for processing requests for political asylum. In other cases, legal support may involve working with national groups to develop a legal strategy.
Trial observation is a monitoring tool aimed at ensuring the respect of due process and fair trial standards and providing protection to defenders subjected to judicial harassment and persecution. Some organizations also provide legal assistance to human rights defenders, either directly by providing a lawyer, or by offering financial support to cover legal fees or related expenses at the national, regional or international level. In other cases, legal support may involve working with national groups to develop a legal strategy.
Trial observation involves sending an observer or a delegation comprised of regional or international experts to attend legal proceedings. An observer might be a staff member or an independent expert outside the organization that is involved in the legal action, usually a legal expert. Following the trial observation, the observers or delegation prepare a report that describes the proceedings, assesses the extent to which human rights standards were upheld and makes recommendations to national authorities and other relevant actors.
Trial monitoring is also useful as the physical presence of external observers can protect the defender by demonstrating to judges and prosecutors that there is international scrutiny of a case, possibly contributing to better respect for human rights standards. In countries where judges and lawyers do not feel well protected, trial observation provides defenders with a potential layer of protection.
To learn more about trial observation and legal assistance, please see the , pages 7-9.
Support for WHRDs providing testimony in legal proceedings
Organizations that provide legal assistance have been increasingly concerned about the emotional toll of legal proceedings, particularly for WHRDs providing testimony. Attention also needs to be paid to security issues for WHRDs involved in legal proceedings.
List of organizations
The following is a list of organizations sorted by region that performs legal assistance and trial observation.
- Amnesty International
- Front Line Defenders
- Human Rights First
- International Federation for Human Rights
- The World Organisation Against Torture
- Women Living Under Muslim Laws
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
- Women’s Rehabilitation Centre
- The National Commission on Violence against Women in Indonesia