© 2018 by Justice International

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Annual Report for 2017

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Table of Contents:

 

  1. Letter from the Director 

  2. Our Values

  3. Our Programs

  4. Staff & Volunteers 

  5. Finances 

  6. Looking Forward 

 

  1. Letter from the Director:

 

Justice International was founded in response to the worsening rule of law situation in the world and most specifically in the countries of Eurasia. The landscape in the region is becoming more authoritarian and less democratic. Civil society that had always had difficulty operating in this region finds itself under renewed threat.  With Russia adopting the law on Foreign agents and other countries following in its footsteps, the door has been opened to further limitations of basic human rights.

 

While there are many exceptional organizations that work and support human rights, we created Justice International to fill the gap where other organizations do not reach. Specifically, Justice International is creating programs and projects that are flexible and demand-driven, and is focused on working to protect, support and empower local lawyers, advocates, and human rights defenders in a way that is most effective and suitable under the local circumstances. 

    

Not only do Justice International’s experts have a long history of working in the Eurasian region, we also have extended contacts with individual local lawyers, defenders, activists, as well as local non-profits, international organizations, and professional associations.  We are listening to our local contacts, focusing on their needs, identifying the gaps of current existing assistance, conducting research and creating effective and flexible projects to provide meaningful projects and programs that have long term impacts and empower local lawyers and defenders to work in accordance with democratic values and the rule of law. 

 

This first year, specifically, we advised and trained eight human rights defenders (HRDs) working in challenging environments in the closed-off region of Central Asia and we have supported one defender from Turkmenistan, who was illegally detained, tortured and sent to prison as a result of his exercising his constitutional rights. We prepared and submitted a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) on his behalf and we continue to advocate for his rights. We spearheaded and organized an important side-event at the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), Europe’s largest conference on human rights in Poland, where we highlighted the importance of lawyers in promoting human rights and the rule of law in challenging closed political environments.

 

We have had a very successful first year.  Growing an organization from the beginning always has its own number of difficulties and challenges, but we have seen the impact of our efforts and have had a number of tangible successes. Our goal in the coming year is to continue to provide assistance to those in need and to build our own capacity and network to continue to work in this challenging region of the world. 

 

  1. Our Values and Visio                                                                                                                                                               1. Strategic goals and aspirations

 

Justice International works to provide legal assistance and overall support to human rights defenders and lawyers. We focus on those working to bring equality, justice, and rule of law to all and who, as a result of their work, face intimidation and retaliation. Justice International also provides assistance to improve the fundamentals of rule of law in environments where corruption is common and freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly are limited. 

 

We strive to take on the most challenging cases in difficult environments because those taking risks to support basic human rights deserve our support and recognition. We advocate for fundamental basic human rights such as fair trial standards, respect for the freedom of assembly and expression, and access to justice. A world where more countries acknowledge the importance of rule of law, justice, and transparency is a safer world for all of us. 

 

Justice International aspires to provide assistance in a meaningful and sustainable way. Justice International is continuously exploring new and innovative ways to assist lawyers and human rights defenders as the entire civil rights community adapts to a rapidly changing world and political environment.

 

    1. Challenges 

Justice International is a new and small organization, and as such it has been a challenge this first year to find financial support for the organization. Grant opportunities have been limited.  Grant-giving organizations are more comfortable working with larger and better-known NGOs.  As a result, much of our work has been pro-bono as we establish a track record that will allow us to compete with other older, more established organizations.  We continue to seek out new grantors and funders to support our programs. Getting funding from European grantors has proven to be difficult as those grantors tend not to support American non-profits, only assisting European organizations. 

 

  1. Our Programs and Highlighted Activities and Success:

 

Currently, we are supporting lawyers and human rights defenders from the Eurasian region. This is a region where human rights abuses and violations continue to be commonplace. These individuals are monitoring the human rights situation in countries with extremely restrictive and difficult conditions, and are in need of assistance and support from the international community. Our programs can be divided into four main areas: legal assistance, advocacy, training and a mentorship program.

1. Legal Assistance is focused on helping lawyers make use of appropriate existing international legal mechanisms when defending the rights of human rights defenders and lawyers in
Eurasian region. Our pro-bono experts help lawyers with legal defense strategies in specific cases or helping the lawyers with preparing legal documents/complaints/requests. 

Depending on the need, the experts support the HRDs by advising on the legal strategy of the case and the best steps to take that are in line with local and international legal standards. Where applicable, the experts also help prepare and submit legal submissions and/or requests on behalf of the HRDs. Our staff has over fifteen combined years of international human rights practice, and our pro-bono legal experts are hand-picked to make sure they have specific legal and language expertise to be able to help the lawyers and HRDs and support them in individual cases. 

2. Advocacy is another area through which Justice International is providing support for human rights defenders and lawyers.  Through the years of international and legal experience,  we work in partnership with local attorneys to ensure that human rights defenders come to the attention of the international human rights community when such attention is needed and would assist them with their advocacy efforts. 

In certain cases, where raising awareness is an essential tool in achieving positive results, Justice International is conducting advocacy through social media, public statements, internal meetings and other means. We realize that raising awareness about supporting human rights and rule of law is vital in our work and can play a concrete role in improving rule of law in certain situations.  Using our experience with international human rights mechanisms and our understanding of the cultural and legal environment of countries of Eurasia we can play active roles in specific human rights cases. 

3. Training and technical support is another area where Justice International helps lawyers and human rights defenders from Eurasia. We bring lawyers together to share experience and learn from experts from the United States and Europe on strategies and best practices on many various legal topics depending on the needs and requests from our local partners and individual HRDs.

Our tailored workshops focus on educating participants on international human rights legal standards and corresponding local norms, as well as providing interactive practical exercises with using existing UN mechanisms, UN special procedures, and UN complaints processes.  Our experts walk participants through best practices and practical examples of how to apply these international standards in difficult and repressive local conditions.  Experts also advise participants on the best litigation strategies in specific cases the participants are currently working on.  Participants are also guided through discussions of how concepts such as a right to a fair trial, access to justice, confidentially of communications, and effective representation can be applied in real-life situations. Depending on the topics and need for the trainings, our experts are hand-picked for each training and workshop with regard to experts’ legal expertise and language skills in order to provide the most effective and sustainable results. 

 

4. In every project and activity, we are mindful about creating network opportunities and empowering local lawyers, advocates and defenders. Although in this digital world, almost everyone is connected and online, some lawyers and advocates feel very isolated. We aim to establish lasting and meaningful connections between lawyers and defenders in Central Asia and Eurasia and the West, including lawyers in Europe and the US. We will be creating a Mentorship program in the future.

 

 

  1. Highlights of 2017 and Success stories:

 

  1. Human Rights Workshop for Central Asian HRDs working in challenging environments 

 

In 2017, together with other partners, Justice International helped conducting a workshop for human rights defenders from April 23 to May 2, 2017 in Bishkek. Experts spent four days participating in the closed workshop focusing on practical aspects of applying international human rights standards in challenging environments. These young and newly-recruited HRDs also needed a better grasp of human rights fundamentals, as well as a deeper understanding of international HR standards and regulations. It was necessary for them to understand how these standards were applied in the difficult environment of their relevant countries and how it is possible to work in such difficult conditions and make a change in society while also pushing the boundaries of autocratic governments. 

 

One part of the seminar focused on human rights fundamentals and practical aspects of applying international human rights standards in closed spaces. The topics included:

  • Basic concepts such as universality, equality, nondiscrimination, rights and duties, fair trial standards.

  • International laws and conventions on human rights, how they are applied in practice, including main provisions of ICCPR and CAT conventions, and their protocols. The workshop also covered the UN mechanism in the area of human rights and ways of using the mechanisms in protecting lawyers and defenders’ rights.

  • Specifics of filing individual complaints with UN bodies including special procedures, human rights committee and council, and UN working groups.

  • To advise and discuss the specific legal strategies and ways of making impact in litigating cases brought again lawyers and/or HRDs, or citizens. The expert also discussed the cases that support and demonstrate how concepts such as fair trial, access to justice, legal assistance, effectiveness of lawyers, adequate facilities, confidential communication are applied and protected in practice. 

  • Our expert spent a significant amount of time talking about best practices of utilizing  UN special procedures to demand redress in the cases of violations of human rights. The experts also described a step-by-step process of using complaints process with UN human rights committee and UN human rights council.

 

The workshop was a success by all standards and very much appreciated by local HRDs.

 

      1. Side Event at OSCE/HDIM 2017

 

    Justice International led a coalition of partners including Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L), the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Polish Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) to organize a side event at the largest human rights conference in Europe and to bring a panel of experts, lawyers and human rights defenders to the OSCE 2017 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM 2017) in Warsaw, on September 20th, 2017 to discuss the important role lawyers play while performing all of their professional functions in challenging conditions under intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

    The speakers outlined the main standards of the lawyers’ role as established in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and highlighting the need for more protections by illustrating through specific cases from Belarus, Crimea, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Specifically, the speakers described the circumstances that undermine lawyers’ independence such as licensing, disciplinary, civil, and criminal procedures and how those are used by the executive and judicial branches to put pressure on lawyers working on sensitive cases. The speakers also shared other difficulties they face in their work such as identification with their clients or their clients’ causes, working under physical threats of violence, lack of access to their clients and case information. They also discussed the ways to move towards finding solutions and providing recommendations for international community in defending lawyers working under threat.

 

      1. Legal assistance and Advocacy for lawyers and defenders

        1. Imprisoned HRD Gaspar Matalaev from Turkmenistan

 

    Justice International supported the defense of Gaspar Matalaev after he was persecuted for his efforts to shine a light on inhumane labor practices in Turkmenistan’s cotton industry.  The experts filed a petition to the United Nation Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) that issued an opinion and found Gaspar’s arrest and detention arbitrary and asked for immediate release. Approximately 91,000 people petitioned for Gaspar’s release as a result of the campaign by Freedom United and many other organizations.

        1. Human rights lawyer from Russian Federation  

Justice International also supported human rights lawyer from the Russian Federation, who was working on sensitive cases often representing defendants from Ukraine, and as a result of his work, he faced pressures and many other forms of threats.  Justice International supported him with a social media campaign and technical assistance as he defended his ability to continue to practice as a lawyers.

  1. Staff and Volunteers

 

Justice International has been fortunate to have many volunteers, pro-bono experts and supporters to advance its cause for human rights. Justice International is primarily staffed as a volunteer organization.  As we are still a new organization, we are still looking to recruit more volunteers interested in these issues and the Eurasian region.  As the number of grants we receive increases, we will look to bring staff on as salaried positions.

 

  1. Financial statements 

 

Justice International relies on private donations, partner organizations’ in-kind donation, grants and volunteering work. 

 

VI. Looking Forward

 

This first year for Justice International was formative and important to establish the organizational structure, recruit volunteers and look for fundraising opportunities.