Making justice accessible: the role of the Somalian women lawyers association

The Association of Somali Women Lawyers (ASWL) has made a significant contribution to increasing access to legal justice in Somaliland. The association has continued to provide free legal aid to individuals tried in regional or district courts in Somaliland, leading to speedy hearings and rulings in these cases. In January 2009, ASWL intervened in 20 cases, which aptly illustrate the association’s work. These cases involved individuals allegedly involved in theft, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, physical assault and cheating.

One case concerned an 18-year-old man found guilty of stealing USD 500. He was sentenced to one year in prison upon ASWL’s request for a pardon. In another case, a woman aged 25 was jailed for only 16 months after being found guilty of assault; ASWL had pleaded with the court for leniency, as the accused was a first-time offender. Meanwhile, two men aged 22 and 18 were freed after the withdrawal of a case in the regional court in which they were accused of armed robbery. Clan elders from both sides agreed to solve the matter out of court. Two other young men, also accused of armed robbery, were set free after ASWL demanded their release based on prolonged detention without trial. The association is also pushing for hearing a case of theft involving a 63-year-old man, after he was put in remand for an indefinite period.

Other cases include one in which a man aged 48 was released from custody after ASWL presented an agreement reached by the accused and the plaintiff. The intervention of ASWL also resulted in the release of a 29-year-old man accused of kidnapping. This was after ASWL argued that the accused had been detained for a long time without trial. 

ASWL was established in 2008, with support from UNDP. The Association is based in Mogadishu, as a non-profit making, non-governmental organization. ASWL was founded on February 2008 by a group of women lawyers, with the collective aim to protect and promote the fundamental rights of women, children and marginalized groups. ASWL intends to establish a forum, organized to offer refreshment course for its members. ASWL also advocates for legal and policy changes, which it achieves through campaigning awareness. In addition, ASWL provides trauma counseling and legal aid to vulnerable groups. ASWL assisted by the support received from the UNDP.

ASWL aims to:

•    To collaborate, women lawyers in the legal profession
•    To empower women groups, through advocacy, capacity building and
      training programs.
•    To provide all legal assistance, such as counseling, legal aid and record       
      cases on human rights victims.
•    To increase the number of women involved in legal and justice