6 February 2012
Mahendra Nagar, 6 February 2012 – It is freezing cold this morning in Far Western Nepal. Gopi Parajuli (ASF) and Anita Neupane (Legal Aid and Consultancy Centre) try to find their way through the bus station. In a typically helpful and gentle manner, a passer-by asks them: “Are you looking for the lawyer’s bus? There it is!” And he points towards a small vehicle with a message painted on it. It is a so called ‘microbus’, of the kind used by thousands of ordinary Nepali every day to commute to work. The message on its side says: “Are you legally vulnerable because of your economic situation? Please contact the Kanchanpur District Bar Association”.
Kanchanpur is an isolated district with a high incidence of poverty, especially among women. A significant proportion of the population is from the Dalit group, on the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy. Human rights denials are common here; domestic violence, discrimination and abuses by local authorities are widespread.
In Kanchanpur and four other districts, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) helps Bar Associations to provide free legal aid services to the population. The local lawyers are very committed to improving access to justice, but data collected recently by ASF in Nepal suggests that people are not aware of these services and that the first challenge is to help them find their way to the legal aid providers.
“That is why, since december 2011, we make use of innovative ways to make the population aware of their rights and and advise them how to obtain justice”, explains Julie Fournier, Head of Mission in Nepal. “That includes the use of radio programs, advertisements on public transport and microphones installed on rickshaws that go around the weekly market to convey the ASF message.”
Gopi and Anita are satisfied: the advert on the bus looks good and people already seem to be familiar with it. Now they can start thinking of new original ideas to pass on ASF’s message.