Legal help programme provides vulnerable Iraqis with access to justice

Erbil, Iraq, 2012. Photo by UNDP Iraq


Many Iraqis confronting the judicial system do not have either the legal knowledge on how to defend or enforce their rights nor have the financial means to afford counsel. 


Eliza, a 14 year old Iraqi Kurdish girl fell in love with the neighbours’ son and became pregnant.


“When our families found out, they denounced both of us and sent us to prison. Many of our friends were fearful that we would be killed under the so-called honour killing.” Eliza says.  


Due to the sensitivity of the situation, the two families were unable to communicate with each other directly. They, therefore, sought assistance from the Legal Help Desk, which they have heard about from their neighbours.


In cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government and implementing partners, “Heartland Alliance” and the “Women Empowerment Organisation,” UNDP Iraq established three legal Help Desks in Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok, as part of its “Access to Justice Programme for Vulnerable Iraqis.”


Help desk teams including four Iraqi lawyers and a social worker receive daily visits from Iraqis who have no access to legal resources or means to achieve justice. 


The programme covers the entire Kurdistan Region and is funded from the European Union with US$ 150,000. This is part of the EU’s support to projects in support of Rule of Law and Human rights in Iraq where they have so far contributed Euros 14 million.


 “A large number of people were able to attend and receive information on their legal rights, obtain one-on-one counselling on specific issues and in some cases request that one of the Legal Help Desk lawyers represents them” said Peter Batchelor, Country Director of UNDP Iraq.


Eliza is grateful that her family and her neighbouring family finally found their way to the Help Desk.


 “A Help Desk Lawyer, discussed our situation with the two families and after lengthy negotiations both families agreed for us to marry” Eliza added. “I now live happily with my husband and we have a beautiful new-born baby.”


Eliza’s story is one example of the huge threat that “honour killings” impose on women and at times their unborn children in Iraq.