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Supporting Mobile Legal Clinics in Sri Lanka to Increase Access to Justice
Published 12/17/2022 by Global Communities
In Sri Lanka, some segments of the population — particularly those directly affected by the prolonged armed conflict — face challenges due to a lack or loss of personal documentation pertaining to their identity, citizenship, civil status, property ownership and education.
For these groups, such as internally displaced persons, the resettled and returnees, the lack of documentation has led to increased marginalization and vulnerability and affected access to basic services, compensation or reparation, livelihoods and education. In addition, they may have little or no knowledge of their rights as citizens and remain outside of the transitional justice processes.
The Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms (MOJ)’s Access to Justice program raises awareness of roles and responsibilities of institutions falling under the purview of the MOJ and aims to increase access to justice. The program uses mobile clinics to reach communities across Sri Lanka that remain unable to access basic state services in mainstream locations either due to distance or lack of financial resources.
In addition to the MOJ and the institutions and departments under its purview, the clinics feature other essential state institutions such as the Registrar General’s Department (which handles the registration of marriages, births and deaths, among other tasks) and the Department for Registration of Persons (which issues national identity cards), thereby offering a comprehensive range of services and information to communities. These mobile clinics also raise awareness of the importance of legal documentation and heighten the profile of the MOJ and related institutions.
Following a request by the MOJ, in January 2022, the USAID Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (SCORE) Activity implemented by Global Communities supported a mobile clinic under the Access to Justice program. For SCORE, marginalized and vulnerable communities will be better protected through increased knowledge of and improved access to state services. Additionally, reconciliation and social cohesion processes will benefit from an inclusive and proactive approach to empowering marginalized and vulnerable communities and addressing long-standing gaps that have affected the rights of individuals and communities. Mobile clinics take services to the people and to communities that may not be able to otherwise access much-needed services.
In October and November 2022, SCORE supported two additional mobile legal clinics as part of increased collaborations with the MOJ and the Unity Cluster (comprised of the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, Office on Missing Persons, and Office for Reparations), which are the state institutions mandated to handle matters related to reconciliation and unity.
Mobile clinic in Jaffna
On October 31, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms, formally inaugurated the mobile clinic held at the Jaffna District Secretariat premises. This mobile clinic focused mainly on offering services and settling issues faced by persons of Sri Lankan origin/Sri Lankans returning from India but remained open to anyone requiring support.
Significantly, 76 birth and death certificates as well as 28 national identity cards were issued during this mobile clinic – essential documents for establishing identity and in moving forward with reparations and compensation for cases of the missing or disappeared. Participating state institutions handled a total of 334 cases/issues.
|Ministry of Justice – General services||41|
|Office on Missing Persons||34|
|Office for Reparations||51|
|National Identity Cards||28|
|Birth & Death Certificates||76|
|Department of Immigration & Emigration||88|
|Ministry of Foreign Affairs||15|
|Ministry of Defense||1|
|Total Registered Count||363|
MOBILE CLINIC IN KILINOCHCHI
On November 1, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe formally inaugurated the mobile clinic at the Kilinochchi Skills Development Training Centre. Hon. Douglas Devananda, the Minister of Fisheries, was also present. In addition to numerous state institutions, the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation were also included in this clinic.
|Provincial Land Commission||70|
|Registration of Persons||50|
|Ministry of Foreign Affairs||16|
|Department of Immigration & Emigration||60|
As in Jaffna, the clinic focused primarily on Indian returnees and issued 52 consular birth certificates and 100 citizenship documents. The Office for Reparations held inquiries and engaged with 663 people, while the Office on Missing Persons engaged with 126 individuals and recorded 63 cases.
Mobile clinics increase access to state services, justice, and social protections, help vulnerable and marginalized citizens regain their rights and access redress mechanisms where required. By taking services to communities, these clinics offer a more inclusive approach to increasing access to justice and dispelling notions that state institutions are primarily Colombo-centric. These mobile clinics had a wide reach and engagement due to being conducted in Tamil, highlighting the importance of having state-provided services be accessible in both or either local languages as required and as feasible.