New help desk in Baghdad’s oldest court provides free legal assistance to women and most vulnerable
A new legal help desk in Baghdad’s Rusafa Courthouse was inaugurated after Iraq’s Higher Judicial Council (HJC) partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Iraqi non-governmental organisation Dar Al Khibra to provide free legal services to indigent Iraqi citizens as part of a larger effort to strengthen the administration of and citizens’ access to justice in the country.
The establishment of legal help desks is derived from Iraqi law, which stipulates that citizens without means to acquire legal counsel have the right to representation and assistance. However, as Dr. Zyad Saeed, a Rule of Law officer with UNDP noted, “One of the biggest obstacles to protecting human rights in Iraq is that citizens, particularly the most vulnerable groups, are not aware of how to fully obtain their rights and protections afforded by Iraqi law.” The Rusafa Help Desk represents the first programme of its kind to service Baghdad and central Iraq. To build a culture of rights, the Help Desk relies on community activism to ensure that citizens are made aware of their rights and that claims are resolved more efficiently.
“Our collective efforts aim to enhance the state of human rights in Iraq by improving access to justice and legal aid mechanisms,” said His Excellency Medhat al Mahmoud, Iraqi Chief Justice. “To achieve this, we look forward to partnering with communities and civil society organisations. This project is only a first step which constitutes a cornerstone for further support and replication nationwide.”
At a time of escalating violence, vulnerable populations such as women, children, people living with disabilities and internally displaced persons face a critical need for legal assistance. The Rusafa Legal Help Desk will provide initial legal information and referral to beneficiaries, and may provide legal representation in court.
UNDP Iraq’s Country Director Adam Abdelmoula emphasised that the “Rusafa Help Desk strengthens community ties by tasking citizens to promote, provide, and seek legal assistance at the local level. It is important that these services become embedded and perpetuated in all aspects of the legal culture – from education and public service to the institutions themselves.”
The Help Desk is located directly within the Rusafa Justice Palace, the country’s largest and oldest court complex and the site of the Baghdad Appellate Court. The decision to house the Help Desk on court premises is intended to increase visibility and public access. The Rusafa Help Desk is grounded within the community and is managed by Dar Al Khibra, an Iraqi NGO specialising in providing legal aid to vulnerable groups.
With the opening of the Help Desk in Baghdad’s Rusafa Justice Palace, Iraq now has three help desks, all supported by UNDP, servicing citizens in northern, central, and southern Iraq.
Representatives from Iraq’s Judiciary, UNDP, and the U.S. Embassy were present at the inauguration.