|Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is an international non-governmental organization created in 1992 in Brussels (Belgium) and is mostly made up of lawyers, solicitors and magistrates.
The role of ASF is to contribute, completely independently, to the establishment of a just, equitable and united society, in which both the law and justice serve those who need them the most.
ASF acts to promote and to protect civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the most vulnerable groups and/or individuals. ASF’s mission is based on a series of basic principels, objectives and intervention axes following the ASF’s Mandate for the period 2004-2008.
ASF in its context
As soon as ASF has the means to do so, it intervenes in countries where violations of human rights, bloody armed conflicts and political violence occur, contrary to the rule of the law. Justice in these countries is too often arbitrary and doesn’t represent a source of security, peace and development for the population. Disputes rarely find satisfying answers through a court hearing. These people are disillusioned, so they tend to rely on private justice, which, with no regard for the fundamental rights of the person, exerts the law as much as possible and contributes to the creation or to the continuation of a violent climate.
The population’s needs in these countries are enormous. Their judiciary systems can’t, or won’t, respond to their needs effectively and with due respect for human rights. There are numerous reasons for this, including:
- justice is inaccessible to groups and/or individuals who are in need of it the most, who don’t know their rights, nor how to assert them;
- the degree of independence of the judicial system is insufficient due to weaknesses at both the legislative and the procedural level;
- collaborators who work within the field of law (lawyers, judges, magistrates, etc.) are insufficiently trained and lack freedom when executing their functions;
- the judicial services lack resources etc.
In agreement with the United Nations (UN), ASF endorses the principle that the establishment of the rule of law is a preliminary condition, which is imperative to create durable peace, to eradicate poverty and to enable a sustainable economic and social development. As well as assuring a democratic pathway for these countries, it is also indispensable to resolve conflicts by following the procedures of an independent judicial system in an equitable manner. This applies as much for criminal acts (human rights and freedom violations) as for civil disputes (family, inheritance, property disputes etc.)
Five basic principles guide the organization in our defense actions and law and justice promotion as well as in our internal functions. Each person who is linked to ASF, as a member or as an active collaborator, is bound to respect these principles.
- Independence. Financially autonomous, ASF decides and acts independently and is not influenced by any political, economic, military, religious or philosophical groups.
- Respect human rights. ASF considers that respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is essential and should be at the heart of each society, in order to create a world that is more just, more equitable and more respectful towards life/human dignity.
- Diversity and respecting others. Convinced of the importance and of the richness of cultural, political and religious diversity, ASF always carries out its activities in a way that demonstrates respect for other people.
- Complementarity and subsidiary principles. ASF only intervenes when its action helps to reinforce local key players’ capacities (complementarity principle) or when this is impossible, ASF leads these actions itself (subsidiary principle).
- Discussions and active participation from local inhabitants. Whilst discussing and developing its activities in partnership with local inhabitants, ASF encourages them to become conscientious actors in their future. In other ways, ASF does its best to make local inhabitants aware of the legitimacy of law and of the legal system, condition sine qua none led from its mission.
When putting into practice their actions, ASF intervenes whilst following four major objectives:
- The law servicing groups and/or individuals who need it most. In the short term, ASF hopes to guarantee, if possible, efficient legal help to groups and/or individuals who are in need of it the most. In the long term, ASF hopes to contribute to the establishment of a legal system, which is capable of providing concrete daily protection for them these people.
- Respecting Human Rights. ASF hopes to promote the respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular the right of each individual to a defence and to a fair trial.
- Key players’ responsibility and putting into practice their actions. ASF hopes to promote the responsibility of public and private key players (politicians, economists, people in the social sphere and soldiers) vis-à-vis « the public well-being » in exerting their rights and when putting their actions into place taking into account the way in which this responsibility has been assumed or not.
- The reduction of poverty thanks to a better access to justice. ASF hopes to contribute to reduce poverty by using the law as a means to give a better access to law and justice to groups and/or individuals who are in need if it the most. This would allow a more just, fairer and united redistribution of resources and competences (social, economic and cultural law), as much on a local scale as on an international one. In agreement with the United Nations (UN), ASF puts in place the principle according to which the installation of a state of law is a preliminary condition, which is imperative to create durable peace, to eradicate poverty and to enable a durable social and economic development. The state of law can only exist if the institutions respect the principles of correct governance. Amongst these last few points, the role of justice is obviously essential.