Irina Evdokimova is one of the thousands of Kyrgyz citizens who have received legal advice from free legal aid centres. The centres are part of a project, funded by Finland, which aims to develop legal services.
Hospitalised after being assaulted by her husband, Irina Evdokimova decided that she could not take it any longer. She decided to file for divorce and obtained full custody of their four children after the divorce.
However, she could not leave the children alone at home when she was in hospital to recover from her wounds. Evdokimova therefore sent the children temporarily to a boarding school.
When recovered, she was discharged from hospital and everything was supposed to be okay. However, she soon encountered a problem: she couldn’t get her children back home from the boarding school.
Evdokimova understood that she needed a qualified lawyer to help her resolve the problem. But she didn’t have enough money for hiring a lawyer. The means at hand were limited.
A lawyer helped in collecting the documents
Evdokimova’s situation is common in Central Asian Kyrgyzstan, where approximately a third of the population live below the poverty line. The services of a lawyer may cost hundreds of euros per one case, and most people cannot afford them.
Finally, Evdokimova received help from a free legal aid centre. A lawyer from the centre assisted her to collect and fill out the necessary documents to get the children back home.
“The court process took a very long time, but we won the case and I got my children back home,” said Evdokimova.
Free legal aid centres are part of the Rule of Law project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which Finland supports by EUR 2 million in 2014–2018. In the Osh and Chui provinces, where the project is piloted, 14 legal aid centres have been opened so far; last year, legal consultation was provided to over 16,000 people. UNDP is developing the legal aid centres in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic.
In accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all people should be ensured access to justice. Better availability of legal services provides protection especially to vulnerable population groups, such as women and people with disabilities.
A bus helps in remote areas
The high cost is not the only reason for the fact that legal services are beyond the reach of many Kyrgyz citizens. Another problem is long distances: two out of three Kyrgyz citizens live in remote rural mountains, where hardly any lawyers are available. These citizens may need to travel nearly 20 kilometres to get legal consultation.
The Rule of Law project overcomes this obstacle, too. A bus with lawyers takes legal services to the rural villages in the mountains. To date, it has visited more than 170 villages and over 3,000 people have benefited from the service.
A bus is important for such population groups in particular, for whom covering long distances is difficult. These include mothers of small children, people with disabilities and older people.
In addition to the development of legal services, the project has played a role in the improvement of legislation related to legal aid in Kyrgyzstan. At the end of last year, the country adopted a State-guaranteed Legal Aid Act, which ensures free legal aid to more people than before in cases concerning matters under private law and administrative law, such as taxation, maintenance and land ownership.
According to Ainura Alymbekova, who is an UNDP project coordinator, the aim is that every Kyrgyz citizen would gradually be entitled to get similar legal aid.
The Finnish text is based on an English text initially published on UNDP’s website.
Basic project information
Name of the project: Widening Access to Justice for Legal Empowerment/Rule of law
Implementation by: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Budget: EUR 2.0 million