Legal aid key in strengthening rule of law in the Sahel region

19 September 2014 - Formal justice systems in developing countries often cannot cope with demand for their services, or ensure that the rights of accused persons are protected by providing affordable representation. Legal aid is key in making such legal systems more fair and in ensuring better respect for universal human rights. It helps ensure that accused persons get an equitable process while improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system. In this way, legal aid prevents accused persons from staying lengthy periods in pre-trial detention and prisoners from being forgotten in overcrowded facilities.

Recently, officials from countries in the Sahel region - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Senegal - as well as from Algeria and Morocco, met at Bamako, Mali, on 2-4 September 2014 to agree on the steps needed to improve the access to legal aid in their criminal justice systems. The workshop was implemented as part of UNODC's Sahel Programme, developed in response to a surge in organized crime in the region, and now active all over the Sahel in the areas of terrorism prevention, criminal justice, border management and arms trafficking.

Participants analysed the implementation in the Sahel countries of the UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems - issued by the General Assembly in 2012. They identified key gaps and priorities, and agreed to work towards recognizing and utilizing paralegals in their legal systems as a way to extend legal advice and information to victims, accused and sentenced persons.

The provision of legal aid and assistance is a concrete way in which the rule of law can improve access to justice and contribute to more equitable development, by enabling poor and marginalized groups to better access their rights and entitlements, resolve their disputes peacefully, and seek remedies for grievances.

UNODC develops legal aid tools to assist States in the implementation of the UN standards and norms. They include a variety of handbooks, training curriculums, model laws and workshops which provide guidance to United Nations agencies, governments and individuals at each stage of criminal justice reform.

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UNODC and criminal justice reform