Helping Vulnerable Iraqis: USAID’s Access to Justice Program

KOWERGOSK, IRAQ ©2013 Jacob Russell, www.jacobrussell.virb.com
Children are among the vulnerable Iraqis that Iraq Access to Justice aims to help. ©2013 Jacob Russell, www.jacobrussell.virb.com

Just mention the phrase “international development” in a crowded room, and you’re bound to get a wide range of reactions. For every person who supports American foreign aid, there’s another rallying against any type of “unnecessary” international involvement. As the lead governmental agency working to alleviate global poverty, USAID development programs are no stranger to this criticism.  Calls for decreased foreign aid spending are prevalent, and many of those calls fall upon USAID, one example being Businessweek’s 2013 article claiming the work of USAID had  “little to do with helping the poor”.

Despite these criticisms, many USAID programs significantly impact and improve the lives of people across the globe. Today, we spotlight one of these programs: the Iraq Access to Justice Program.

Launched in 2010, the Iraq Access to Justice Program aims to help vulnerable and disadvantaged Iraqis navigate the daunting Iraqi legal system. Typical populations benefiting from the program include women, orphans, IDPs, disabled persons, and religious and ethnic minorities. The program stands by their claim that ensuring access to justice for vulnerable populations is a “critical responsibility of any modern, just society”. In Iraq, only 22% of vulnerable Iraqis know and understand their legal rights. Even more shocking, a mere 12% of the vulnerable population has access to the formal justice system.

Access to Justice partners with civil service organizations (CSOs) to raise public awareness and inform Iraqis of their legal rights and services available to them. With the help of Iraqi CSOs, Access to Justice has now trained 4,365 law students and represented 3,788 vulnerable Iraqis in court. In all, Access to Justice has helped 17,160 Iraqis receive free legal aid and informed 32,979 of Iraq’s most vulnerable population of their legal rights. The program’s long-term goal is to improve the overall quality of legal services in Iraq.

Clearly, the Access to Justice program has had major accomplishments, helping thousands of Iraqis in need of legal assistance. Unfortunately, this program, and many others like it, is in serious trouble, as USAID funded programs in Iraq face an uncertain future due to budget constraints.

In President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget, USAID faces a slight decrease in overall funding. The funding that is set aside for projects in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan took a one billion dollar hit. This poses serious threats to programs such as Access to Justice and could have a negative impact on Iraq’s peaceful development.

With the great positive impact of programs such as the Iraq Access to Justice Program, it is important to speak up for Iraq, and ensure that these programs can continue to improve the lives of Iraqis. While criticisms of USAID may run wild through foreign policy discussion, Iraq Access to Justice is just one example of USAID having a positive impact on the lives of people around the world. EPIC is committed to making sure the people of Iraq enjoy a stable and peaceful future, which is why we support projects such as Access to Justice. With the help of development programs and US support and assistance, Iraq’s future can be one of reconciliation, cooperation, and peace.

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