BRAC provides critical support for paralegal advisory services, which train young people to support vulnerable justice seekers in prisons as well as a range of institutions of the criminal justice system. This partnership began under a bilateral project of Ministry of Home Affairs, starting in one district in 2008, and is now working in 11 out of 40 districts.
It has been a pleasure working with BRAC. The HRLS team has been extremely responsive, open to suggestions and willing to try new ideas. We are excited about the new models that BRAC is developing to offer property rights related services in a sustainable manner to the most vulnerable segments of the population in Bangladesh.
Local Community Leader (LCL) Workshops
Workshops with community leaders aim to develop human rights awareness and increase gender sensitivity. Building bonds amongst the local elite translates into heightened engagement in reducing human rights violations that take place within the community and creates a platform for enhanced cooperation and reduced corruption among grassroots administration. By educating local influential personnel, an understanding of the legal system can diffuse into shared knowledge and action.
In 2011, HRLS partnered with Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm and BRAC USA to pilot a new property rights initiative (PRI). In this project, we have so far developed a revised human rights and legal education curriculum which shifts the paradigm from a purely legal literacy focus to one of rights articulation, centred on property rights. We have also trained 192 land measurers, or land entrepreneurs, who provide services in the form of boundary determination, possession confirmation, partitioning, and small plot assessments. The Property Rights Initiative is now being scaled up in four more districts across Bangladesh.
Ministry of Women and Children
Citizen’s Initiatives Against Domestic Violence
In 2010, HRLS joined The Citizen’s Initiatives against Domestic Violence, a group of like-minded organisations responsible for the drafting of the Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act, 2010. The rules will also apply to the implementation of this Act in 2011. This is an on-going process which has progressed to the drafting and consultation process of the above law and Rules.
Membership to Distract Legal Aid Committees (DLAC) and National Legal Aid Services Organisation
In 2011, HRLS joined the network of the government administered District Legal Aid Committee (DLAC) through the National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO). HRLS currently holds a combined membership and observership status to this committee across Bangladesh. Through this role, the programme will assist the government to enhance its capacity in providing legal aid services in Bangladesh’s 61 districts, which comprises HRLS coverage areas. HRLS collaboratively engages itself in the promotion of this committee’s work via various communications materials.
Improvement of the Real Situation of Overcrowding in Prisons (IRSOP)
Ministry of Home Affairs
In February 2009, the HRLS programme, as an implementation partner, piloted a project on the criminal justice system and prison reform, designed to help overcome the problem of overcrowding in the Dhaka Central Jail and Kashimpur Central Jails part two and three, through a paralegal advisory model. This project is authorised by the Ministry of Home Affairs and receives financial and technical assistance from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. Since May 2010, HRLS has received supplementary support from AusAid’s Direct Aid programme towards providing legal aid services to under trial prisoners. This project’s duration is until February 2014.
BRAC Research and Evaluation Division
HRLS hosted a presentation and discussion on 19th July 2012 based on the findings of a study to discern the root causes behind parental or familial decisions to send children into domestic work. The study was conducted by BRAC’s research and evaluation division. This alliance is part of a broader project based on spreading awareness on, and upholding the rights of child domestic workers across Bangladesh funded by Gift2Asia.
Acid Survivors’ Foundation
HRLS provides support to survivors of acid-throwing. We ensure legal counselling, fact-finding investigations, and case processing with the aid of panel lawyers across the country, in association with our partner, the Acid Survivor’s Foundation.
Safety in the Workplace
The Safety and Rights Society is an implementation partner of HRLS, who funded an initiative related to deaths and injuries of construction workers and their families in the Labour Court. HRLS’ role is to ensure on-site investigation and reporting via family contact to help file compensation claims in the interest of these families.
Migrant Workers' Rights
In October 2013, BRAC HRLS programme and the BRAC Migration programme began a partnership after signing an official memorandum of understanding. Under this agreement, HRLS will make their services available to 123 migrant workers, whose cases will be referred to HRLS’s legal aid clinics across 17 districts in Bangladesh. Providing these services is part of HRLS’ agenda to protect and preserve the rights of migrant workers in the face of exploitation from devious brokers. The initiative is funded by the BRAC Migration programme and will extend until April 2015.
Global Human Rights Defence
In July 2013, BRAC HRLS began a partnership with Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), an international human rights NGO based in The Hague, Netherlands. The organisation promotes and advocates human rights for minorities and marginalised groups that face human rights violations. As per its Legal Assistance Fund, GHRD has given HRLS a grant to provide legal aid support in at least 10 cases involving GHRD’s target groups. These guidelines include indigenous groups and those marginalised for their religion, sexual orientation, as well as human rights defenders whose rights have been violated. HRLS will carry out periodic updates regarding case proceedings and the agreement is based on a six-month trial period, which is expected to end in December 2013.
BRAC HRLS joined Aarong’s Artisans Development Initiative in November 2012. The initiative is part of a combined BRAC-wide effort to provide comprehensive services to Aarong artisans in production centres across Bangladesh. HRLS will provide legal literacy services to artisans, including other grassroots women, so that they can protect themselves in the face of discrimination and exploitation within their communities. Services will be provided as per each individual case and thus far, the project has been scaled-up across eight districts.
Project background: Creating access to property rights requires not only a clear understanding of statutory and customary laws that govern claims, but also the ability to navigate social constructs and dynamics that create incentives or disincentives for poor and vulnerable populations especially women. Thus, the ‘property rights initiative (PRI)’ has been designed to develop linkages between laws and rights by helping poor communities identify their entitlement to property rights and supporting them in accessing their claims.
First phase: The pilot phase of PRI was implemented in two northern districts (Rangpur and Gaibandha) of Bangladesh.
Second phase: After successful implementation of the 11-month pilot, PRI scaled up to four other northern districts (Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon) on July 2013. This initiative reached a total of 54 sub-districts, 491 union councils, 10,935 villages, 1.8 million households and 7.4 million people.
• Ensuring access to property rights for poor and vulnerable people, particularly women in Bangladesh
• Enable transformative behaviour change amongst poor and vulnerable members of the society, focusing mainly on women to understand and claim their rights on property and land
• Develop outreach strategies to address procedural and social barriers in accessing property rights and convert latent claims for rights into actionable claims
• Create a scalable model of rights awareness and focused engagement to ensure access to property rights with tangible outcomes
• Local community leaders’ workshops
• Training local community leaders
• Training land entrepreneurs (LE) and engaging them in social enterprises
• Courtyard sessions with community people
1. A team of researchers from the Cambridge University’s Judge School of Business has been following the course of the initiative from its inception. They have developed a report on their findings titled ‘Motivation and performance of the land entrepreneur’. A seminar was organised to disseminate the findings on 31 March 2014.
2. The Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh conducted a study titled ‘Socioeconomic costs of property disputes: An empirical examination from Bangladesh’, which was disseminated on 11 August 2014.
3. Dr Ferdous Jahan, Professor, Department of Public Administration of the University of Dhaka conducted a research on social and intergenerational factors that create barriers for women and marginalised to access their right to land and property. Her research findings were disseminated on 15 June 2015.
4. Mr Abdul Mannan, Former Director General of Directorate of Land Record and Survey did a study on institutional barriers for women and marginalised communities to access land and property rights which was disseminated on 15 June 2015.
BRAC has won the Global Justice Innovation Award 2014 in the ‘Successful Innovations’ category for the property rights initiative.
Legal Aid Clinics
In 1998, HRLS instigated its Legal Aid component in order to provide legal support and make the government courts accessible to the poor and destitute. Through its 400 plus nationwide legal aid clinics, which is the first port of call for those seeking legal redressal, HRLS's legal aid initiative has nurtured an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism. It has worked towards making legal offices, courts, and counsels, more transparent in the delivery of equitable justice, spread gender awareness, and promoted a unique human rights based culture for its clients. In this way, our programme has harmonised its legal aid component with the legal literacy module to create the momentum to improve legal legislation and the judicial system.
Under the leadership of dynamic field personnel, the HRLS programme utilises a vast network of communities and proactive partners to detect, handle, and report, human rights violations. Today HRLS continues to provide holistic legal aid and support services across the country.
Fostering Human Rights Lawyering
Human Rights and Legal Education (HRLE) course
The 22-day curriculum for the HRLE class has been updated and shortened to a 12-day course. It is presently being implemented with a paradigm shift from legal literacy to one of rights articulation. The HRLE module aims to improve understanding of the judicial system and will ultimately influence mass awareness.
Odhikar Bastobaiyon Committees (OBCs)
Following the HRLE course, three graduates are chosen from each class to form an Odhikar Bastobaiyon Committees (OBC). By acting as observers in the community, these representatives help in conflict mediation and ensure access to legal resources. The OBC further raises awareness about legal rights and seeks to inform village courts of existing laws.
Shebikas (known in English as volunteers) or ‘Barefoot Lawyers’ impart legal literacy to women across multiple villages by teaching the HRLE course. Shebikas establish social networks within the community; they function as crucial leaders and access points making it easier for them to make legal referrals by supporting and rescuing survivors of human rights violations. Hence, the barefoot lawyers ensure sustainable legal representation. Their empowering work earns them respect within the community. With increased points of contact via the shebikas, rural women can stay connected to the legal system and move one step forward to pursuing formal and informal legal services on their own accord. They operate on a 3P model of ‘Prevent-Protest-Protect’ and are usually the initial contact points in their communities when human rights violations occur.
Odhikar Shebis are trained community leaders who work on a broad scale to deflate the legal process and make it easier for clients to attain justice. These cadres of shebis primarily assist clients in affirming birth, death, marriage, and divorce registration and are also trained in land measurement with theoretical know-how on land surveying. Therefore, this knowledge equips them with a source of income and the insight to help poor and underprivileged people in land related conflicts.
BRAC’s human rights and legal aid services programme is dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights of the poor and marginalised through legal empowerment.
The blend of legal literacy initiatives with comprehensive legal aid services throughout the country helps spread awareness needed to mobilise communities to raise their voices against injustices, discrimination and exploitation – whether at the individual or collective level. Our programme creates an enabling environment for the poor and marginalised to seek equitable justice through formal and informal systems.
Our grassroots volunteers are drivers of our rights awareness raising efforts countrywide.
HRLS operates over 400 legal aid clinics in 61 of 64 districts across Bangladesh and is the largest NGO-led legal aid programme in the world. Our work is premised on a rights based approach to human development.
The programme’s activities include legal education, legal aid service provision via Legal Aid Clinics, which includes an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism, rescue operational support, counselling, and legal referrals, staff training and capacity building.
Our ‘Barefoot Lawyers’ impart legal literacy and spur sustainable social change by raising awareness and informing people of their rights. They operate on a 3P model of ‘Prevent-Protest-Protect’ and are usually the initial contact points in their communities when human rights violations occur.
Networking and strengthening partnerships is amongst our core areas of work. Alongside providing direct service, with partner support from like-minded legal aid and human rights institutions, HRLS is able to assist in the conduction of Writ Petitions, and Public Interest Litigations (PILs). In addition, we also engage in knowledge-generating sessions to collaboratively achieve mutual strategies that directly impact the lives of vulnerable communities.
"BRAC’s work in human rights and legal aid services is one of the most impressive large scale legal aid programmes in the world today. A passion for justice is felt throughout the BRAC team. But most importantly, when travelling with BRAC, you realise that clients trust BRAC completely as a professional organisation: they share their stories readily without fear of reprisal, and while expecting that their grievances will finally be heard. Not only are they heard, but these cases are mediated and adjudicated".
- Stephanie Cohn Rupp
Investments Omidyar Network
Resolving judicial issues