6th November 2015
Since opening in early July this year, Lao PDR’s first legal aid clinic for vulnerable women has been deemed a success with 20 cases received so far; three cases of rape and 17 cases of physical and emotional abuse within the family.
The clinic, which is managed by the Association for Development of Women and Legal Education (ADWLE), provides a range of services including free legal assistance and support through the court system for female victims of gender-based violence, particularly those of Hmong ethnicity, general legal advice to the community for men and women, and outreach into targeted villages to raise awareness on women’s rights.
ADWLE Director, Inthana Bouphasavanh, said the clinic was one of the Association’s key projects and was pleased to have received support from international non-government organisations’ HELVETAS and the Swiss Agency of Development and Cooperation to make the clinic a reality.
“The legal aid clinic will be the first model run by a NPA (non-profit association) in Lao PDR and will be an appropriate place where women can exercise their rights to access the justice system,” she said.
Customary law, in the form of village mediation, is the dominant form of justice mechanism used and is deeply embedded in the psyche of communities.
The court system is seen as expensive, complicated and time consuming.
ADWLE aims to remove at least two of those barriers by offering free legal advice and assistance through the court process.
“When there is a legal clinic set up, men can learn more about domestic violence laws which will reduce gender-based violence in the family and in the community.”
The clinic will primarily target the Nongsonghong village and five surrounding villages where ADWLE has deemed incidences of gender-based violence to be particularly widespread.
One principal lawyer and nine assisting lawyers will be responsible for handling the cases and paralegals are being trained in the target villages.
It is envisaged the paralegals will become the first point of contact for many of the clinic’s clients before being referred to the clinic.
The legal aid clinic was officially opened on Friday, 3 July 2015, and guests included: HELVETAS-Laos Director, Mr. Bong Munsayaphom; Vientiane Judicial Department Vice-Director, Mr. Thongsanh Keopaseuth; Deputy Prosecutor, District Level, Mr. Vithagna Sophavanhdy; the legal aid clinic principal lawyer, Mr. Manolinh Thepkhamvong; and members from the Sub-Commission on the Advancement of Women, village mediation unit members from six villages, civil society organisations and community members from Nongsonghong village.