In remote Kyrgyzstan, itinerary justice under a tree
04 Aug 2017 by Lucio Valerio Sarandrea, Chief Technical Adviser on Peace. Justice and Accountability, UNDP Kyrgyzstan
One day with the “Bus of Solidarity” initiative
At 10 in the morning, when I arrive in the village of Baitik, it’s already 30 degrees and there is not a single cloud in the sky.
Today, I took a break from the computer and meetings and am following the “Bus of Solidarity” of the Ministry of Justice, which our team working on access to justice is supporting. The idea is as simple as it is effective: a group of lawyers are touring remote villages on a bus, giving free legal aid to those who can’t afford going to court or obtaining paperwork.
After setting up a small tent a table and few chairs in the shade, the consultations begin. There are about forty women and men waiting in line, having been informed about the arrival of the bus through a village message board. Once the consultations with the lawyers are over, I decide to speak to them.
Jyldyz came with two problems. Her daughter has two different last names on her identity documents and she can’t attend a public school until the matter is resolved. Her husband is a migrant worker in Russia. Her second problem is about her house. It isn’t properly registered. She tells me in a mix of Russian and Kyrgyz that both issues will soon be resolved. These must have been relatively solvable issues, but they would have stalled without any help.
Keneshbek has a number of problems to discuss. He is an informal Judge in a nearby court of elders. In many cases he has to legislate on disputes without actually knowing what the law says. He came here today to find out more about inheritance procedures which are rather complicated.
There is also Gulmira, who came to find out about her rights, two months after the seeds she bought failed to sprout. A private lawyer had wanted to charge her 50 dollars for some advice and he couldn’t solve the case. We’re advising her on how to seek a refund from the retailer or get new seeds for free. Separately, she wants to find out the proper procedure for registering her house. She holds a paper in her hands and looks satisfied with the advice she got.
I end up speaking with one of the lawyers from the Bus of Solidarity. She tells me that most of the clients are coming to seek help in filing requests and obtaining documents for properties. Women seem to have higher numbers of problems related to their husbands’ absence. Many are migrant workers who rarely come home.
I leave the village when the heat has become even more unbearable, soon the tent will be dismantled and the bus will hit another nearby village in the afternoon for another set of consultations and assistance in solving problems under the roasting sun of a July day in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan.
I came back to my desk with a big sense of fulfillment and realization on how apparently trivial legal advice actually matters so much. In the upcoming years, Bus of Solidarity visits will reach thousands of individuals across the country. This is at the heart of SDG16, which is premised on the idea that there can be no peace and development without an accessible justice system for all.
The project “Widening Access to Justice for Vulnerable People in the Kyrgyz Republic” is financed through the assistance of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.