At the end of 2021, the Human Rights Friendly Community Program participants obtained the financial support to implement their road maps to improve access to justice in four communities. Moreover, the program experts conducted the analytical studies of the quality of work of the local authorities in connection with access to justice in Khmilnyk (Vinnytsia Region), Kreminna (Luhansk Region), and Uzyn (Kyiv Region). Such components are being implemented for the first time, and already have preliminary results.
This component is made of several stages. The program experts studied the work of the local authorities in the areas that were most consistent with the context of each of the three communities. In general, they were associated with:
- Access to justice
- Community security
- Decent living standards
- Labour and working conditions
- Right to information
- Social protection of the vulnerable groups
- Participation in resolution of local issues
Also, the experts examined the efficiency of the regulatory policy.
It was assessed how efficient the programs in the communities were, what actions they included, and whether the local authorities could act strategically in decision making and involve community members in the process.
“The study was deeper than the one generally conducted within other programs. When we zed the local programmes, decisions, and actions plans, we considered how they were consistent with the local community development strategies. Owing to that approach, we were able to assess the work of the local authorities in more detail,” noted Taras Shcherbatiuk, the Program Expert.
The next stage is fourteen in-depth interviews with the representatives of the local authorities. The interviews were supposed to check and update the information collected during the study.
“The in-depth interviews turned out to be a valuable addition to the office study because the information from open sources and official documents does not always reliably represent issues and challenges that are really on the agenda in the community as well as the considerable scope of the actions actually taken by the local authorities in the areas and directions we analyzed. As for access to justice, we found out that each community had the infrastructure that provided primary and sometimes secondary legal aid and legal awareness, but there were accessibility issues among those who resided far from the administrative center of the community or needed to resolve the matter urgently. An interesting example is the Khmilnyk Community made of more than 40 villages: the issue was resolved comprehensively, by developing the network of paralegals from among the locals and village elders,” says Maryna Shpiker, the Program Sociologist.
On collecting and analyzing the information, the Program experts met the representatives of the local authorities at the strategic sessions. The meetings helped identify the major challenges of the community and tried to find ways to overcome them together.
“You cannot develop cooperation with the communities from an office in Kyiv by sending inquiries. Together with the employees of the city council, village elders, and local council memebers in each community, we plunged into the understanding of access to justice not only as access to legal aid but also the key to resolving issues in different areas of the community life. We introduced the conclusions of our experts, who had been studying the local strategies and programs for more than six months to find opportunities for the community to improve access to justice and public services,” notes Yevgen Poltenko, the Executive Director of the Legal Development Network.
For instance, in Kreminna in Luhansk oblast, the Program experts and the social workers, designed what practical actions could be taken in 2022 to make the inclusive public services real for the community residents.
The representatives of the Khmilnyk City Council decided that work in two areas would be of priority. The community security provided integral solutions to provide the community residents with high-quality drinking water. As for the other area, the regulatory policy, the local business people must participate in preparation, discussion, and adoption of regulatory acts by the local authorities.
As for the representatives of the local self-government in the Uzyn Community (Kyiv oblast), their agenda also includes the environmental problems and facilitation of the specialized cooperation in the agricultural sector (particularly gardening).
The information discussed during the strategic sessions will be the basis for recommendations to improve access to justice for the community residents. The experts of the Human Rights Friendly Community Program, together with the representatives of the local authorities, are planning to complete this work by the end of March 2022.
Implementation of the Road Maps
Following the social studies of the legal needs and challenges in the communities last year, the initiative groups from Kakhovka in the Kherson oblast, Poltava, Kamyanka-Buzka in the Lviv oblast and Vilkhivka in the Kharkiv oblast obtained financial support for the implementation of their road maps. Their awareness-raising and advocacy work started in October 2021. Here are some of the results that the local activists can already share.
In October, 2021, the local initiative group presented the findings of the sociological study at the city council session. The following month, the mayor issued the order to establish the task force to draft local legal empowerment program .
“It was the start of the pre-final part of the project implementation. Our entire group started active work with the draft program and materials for the advocacy campaign. Working as a team with the city council was of great help,” says Olha Radionova, the Group Coordinator.
The project will be finalized by the end of January, 2022, but it has already been decided that it will be coordinated by the Local Centre of Social Services of the Kakhovka City Council.
The initiative group in Vilkhivka advocates introducing the strategic solutions provided by the road map for improving access to justice in the community. The activists have already introduced the findings of the sociological study of the legal needs and challenges of the local residents to the community and initiated the creation of the draft program for providing legal aid and improving security until 2024. Moreover, the initiative group intends to start a legal section at the community’s website and facilitate improvement of the residents’ access to the services of the governmental free legal aid system.
From October to December, 2021, the initiative group of the Poltava Community conducted workshops for the residents of three communty districts regarding counteraction to domestic violence and discrimination and webinars for the school students. The representatives of the social sphere of the community and law enforcement officers were involved in the events. Owing to the active legal awareness-raising work, the group tries to increase the residents’ awareness of legal aid opportunities, which will help establish efficient communication between the residents and the local centre of secondary free legal aid and local authorities to access to justice.
Since the community is working to optimize the programs and strategies, the legal empowerment component will be incorporated into the existing program and strategic documents of the Poltava Territorial Community.
“We are aimed at the target program ‘Developing Adult Education’. Our group is engaged inchanges to better access to justice in the existing program. We have already developed the new version,” noted Mariia Kiryanova, the Coordinator of the Initiative Group.
In the Kamyanka-Buzka Community,the lawyers of the initiative group visited the community districts twelve times from October to December, 2021. They provided free legal aid to the community residents and presented the study findings. More than 170 legal consultations were given within this work. Fifteen procedural documents were drafted.
Moreover, now the community has the hotline for free legal aid to get consulted on legal issues.
The initiative group has developed the information booklets and started work to develop the local program for access to justice.
In 2019-2021, the sociological studies were conducted in seventeen communities to identify the local residents’ legal issues and needs and create the road maps for improving access. The new stage of The Human Rights Friendly Community Program is directed at supporting the implementation of the solutions.
The training and practical Human Rights Friendly Community Programme has been implemented by the UA2J School of Practice since 2019 based on the network of legal clubs #PRAVOKATOR, with the support of Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision, International Renaissance Foundation, Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation, partner organisations and institutions, and is administered by the Legal Development Network.
The material represents the opinion of the authors and does not necessarily coincide with the stance of the International Renaissance Foundation