Scales of justice weigh-in with opening of a new UNMIK-funded legal aid centre
Fighting for justice just got easier for Kosovo communities, with the opening of a new centre that will provide free legal services to those most in need – including women and minority groups.
The new legal aid support centre, to be run by the Kosovo Law Institute, will have access to a pool of specialised and experienced lawyers, specifically with expertise in property rights, labour law, protection of asylum seekers, family law (with a focus on gender-based violence and wartime sexual violence), and prisoner welfare.
A vision of a “just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially-inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met” was at the heart of the United Nations global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and the opening of the centre, Special Representative to the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIK Zahir Tanin said during the centre’s inauguration.
The inauguration, at Sirius Hotel on May 8, featured keynote remarks by SRSG Tanin as well as the President of the Kosovo Supreme Court Enver Peci, Kosovo Law Institute executive director Betim Musliu, Free Legal Aid Agency Executive Director Ramadan Gashi and Legal Aid Support Center coordinator Yll Zekaj. EULEX Head of Mission Alexandra Papadopoulou and the UN Resident Coordinator Ulrika Richardson were also present at the event.
“Access to justice for all remains one of the basic principles of the rule of law. This center aims to ensure that free legal aid is available to vulnerable groups, as envisaged by and in compliance with Kosovo legislation,” SRSG Tanin said.
SRSG Tanin expressed the intention the legal aid support centre would exist far into the future – long after the international community had left Kosovo, he said.
“More specifically, SDG16.3 promises to ensure equal access to justice for all by 2030 and this initiative is a small step forward towards that end.”
According to a study by OSCE in 2016, in 33 per cent of serious crime cases there was no representation at all or only on one side – and this statistic was significantly worse for women. In 65 per cent of cases involving women, only one party had representation or there was no representation for either party at all.
The immediate focuses of the new centre include: to help women pursue their property rights; to aid potential victims of sexual violence initiate processes in respect of the new government commission on recognition and verification of victims during the conflict; to help pensioners awaiting pensions from Serbian authorities; to aid the increasing number of asylum-seekers in Kosovo with their legal cases; and to help prisoners and their families access their rights.
There will be a team of five fulltime lawyers, an office coordinator and translators from different communities on staff, while weekly visits to correctional facilities will be conducted by selected lawyers.
Those who are interested in accessing the services of the centre will be able to approach the centre directly through:
- the completion of an online form on the Centre for Legal Aid (CLA) website
- submission of the completed form through the postal service at the address: Kosovo Law Institute (Center for Legal Aid), St. Rrustem Statovci, Entry I, no. 1
- calling the toll free number 0800 22 222
- the centre’s Facebook page
All services can be accessed in Albanian, Serbian and English languages. The centre will also provide remote legal assistance to those seeking support who are not able to travel to Pristina.
The centre has been funded for an initial five-month duration, with the intention that other international and governmental donors will become involved once the centre’s work is consolidated.