500 victims of gender-based violence to get free legal services next year

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Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security Shanielle Hoosain-Outar (left) and President of the Guyana Bar Association Pauline Chase hold the MoU for the Legal Pro-Bono 500 Initiative which will see victims of gender-based violence accessing free legal services

Geared at eliminating instances of gender-based violence, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security in collaboration with the Guyana Bar Association and the United Nations on Thursday, launched the Legal Pro-bono 500 Initiative.

The initiative is part of the ministry’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and will see the Guyana Bar Association providing legal aid to victims and vulnerable persons across Guyana, until the end of 2022.

Under the spotlight initiative, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Shanielle Hussain-Outar, and President of the Guyana Bar Association, Pauline Chase, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.

Human Services and Social Security Minister, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, said the ministry is committed to creating more avenues of legal services across the country, to eradicate all forms of violence against women, girls, men, and boys.

“Access to justice is an important, very important and significant aspect to curb what we see right across our country, and that is the steady stream of people seeking access to justice, and for one reason or another, [they are] not able to achieve that in a timely manner or not at all. This does not mean that they are not avenues to access justice. This does not mean that legal services are absent. It simply means that there’s need for more.”

Minister Persaud extended appreciation to the Guyana Bar Association for partnering with her ministry to help curb the issue.

She said, “So, I want to sincerely express my appreciation to the Guyana Bar Association for so willingly being party to this and so willingly considering the request that was not just one case but 500 cases per year, at no cost to anyone, which means it’s not a financial measurement. It is also time and effort that will be spent until these cases are resolved.”

President of the Bar, Pauline Chase in her address recognised the need for legal support for victims. She iterated the Bar’s pleasure in being part of the initiative. 

“The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. This isn’t an acceptable statistic, and we must individually and collectively do all that we can to bring that number to zero. We are here today to address a very important matter of concern in our society. Gender-based violence, domestic violence an all-encompassing term in all purulence in Guyana,” Chase said.

The lawyer added, “At the Bar Association of Guyana, we are happy to lend our assistance in this fight against gender-based violence. As officers of the court, we are confident that through this collaboration and working together, we can bring much-needed support and relief to victims of gender-based violence.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations has committed to providing human resources, technical assistance, and facilities to efficiently run the legal pro-bono service.

To ensure the initiative runs efficiently, the European Union (EU) and United Nations invested over US$6 million to ensure women and girls are provided with a future free from violence. 

Meanwhile, Ambassador of the European Union to Guyana, Fernando Canto said the EU is supportive and happy to be a part of the government’s efforts to eliminate gender-based violence through this initiative.

“I would like to say that tomorrow is the International Day of Human Rights and what better way to celebrate than to sign this important memorandum, which will allow for many people to have access to justice, which is one of the most important human rights in history. We are very happy to be able to make this contribution to you all. And we hope that these will result in a better future for the women and girls of Guyana.”

Additionally, the Human Services and Social Security Ministry has liaised with the Ministry of Legal Affairs, to ensure victims of all forms of violence can easily access legal representation through hope and justice centres. The centres will provide all legal services under one roof.

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