Throughout the world, legal activism has become one of the preeminent modes for promoting human rights and creating transformative change. By incorporating innovative litigation strategies, community education and mobilization, research, and legislative advocacy, lawyers are having a greater impact on the development of society and the facilitation of community involvement in justice issues. However, in many cases these groups have few resources, face significant political pressure, are geographically isolated and have limited access to information about effective strategies of the legal communities in neighboring states.
Since 1995, BiH legal services providers have been largely dependent on financial and technical support from international organizations and donors. Given past shortfalls in support and the uncertainty of institutionalized government funding for legal aid, the justice sector fell into crisis. Identifying the need among practicing human rights lawyers and legal activists to share strategies and methodology, IHRLG partnered with the Law Center at the Faculty of Law (Sarajevo) in holding a regional Legal Practitioners' Forum for Central and Eastern Europe in 2000. The forum provided the opportunity for 65 legal practitioners from BiH, other countries in South Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States to exchange experiences in the provision of legal services and enforcement of civil law. (Read more about the IHRLG Strategic Human Rights Lawyering Initiative.)
Since the forum, IHRLG has continued to encourage and empower BiH lawyers and human rights professionals to adopt a strategic approach to case intake and litigation, informed by an understanding of the relationship between case management and advocacy and the establishment of the rule of law. IHRLG has also worked closely with a litigation strategy coordination group under the auspices of the Office of the High Representative. IHRLG facilitates the Legal Services Coalition (LSC), currently comprised of individual lawyers and the Benefits Commission for Legal Aid. The Benefits Commission, which provides legal aid to people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation, was set up by the Council of Europe (COE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
As part of the Legal Aid Working Group, established by the COE and the OSCE to draft a legal aid law delineating the mandate of the Benefits Commission, IHRLG assisted in compiling information on comparative systems for providing free legal aid and drafting the law. The first draft of the Legal Aid Law was distributed to the members of the Working Group in the beginning of December 2000. IHRLG continues to assist members of the LSC in the development of the legislation.