Post-Flood Pro Bono in Pakistan

Flood affected women show their registration cards during distribution of food bags at a relief camp in Hyderabad. Artist/

One year after last summer’s devastating and deadly floods, many of Pakistan’s 1,096,000 internally displaced people, along with Pakistan’s 702,000 Afghan refugees, remain hungry, homeless, and vulnerable to an array of grave rights violations.  The PBEye is relieved to report that pro bono is beginning to make an appearance in Pakistan.  According to The Pakistan Observer, the Islamabad-based NGO Struggle for Change (SACH) is harnessing pro bono power to protect victims of torture and other traumatic human rights violations.  SACH supplies survivors with shelter, medical treatment, psychological support, and free legal services.

Extensive recent media coverage of events in Pakistan and Afghanistan has brought extreme poverty and egregious human rights abuses to light, heightening international awareness about the plight of victims and impelling pro bono efforts like the one spearheaded by SACH.  Who could forget the haunting image of Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan girl who fled her abusive forced marriage only to be hunted down and brutally mutilated by her husband and brother-in-law, who sliced off her ears and nose to punish her for running away.  According to TIME Magazine, the local judge – a Taliban commander – informed Aisha’s uncle that she had to be made an example of to discourage other village girls from fleeing their abusers.  With pro bono assistance from a cross-disciplinary team of advocates, Aisha received reconstructive surgery, found refuge with the charity Women for Afghan Women, and began rebuilding her life in The Big Apple.  In post-flood Pakistan, forced marriages of young girls like Aisha have spiked dramatically as desperate families sell their daughters in an effort to feed and shelter the rest of the family.

This summer, SACH honored World Refugee Day (more on this from ThePBEye, here) by organizing a legal workshop to train a pool of pro bono lawyers to serve as human rights defenders in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Attock.  UNHCR Assistant Field Officer Ehsan Ullah Khan led a session on the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and The Legal Status of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, and Salman Asif, advisor to the U.N. Office of The Resident Coordinator, taught a session on Gender Based Violence.  Honored guests included UNHCR Assistant Representative for Protection Maya Ameratunga and Farkhanda Aurangzeb of the Ministry of Human Rights.  SACH’s newly trained legion of volunteer lawyers will provide free legal aid to individuals in need, with special emphasis on women and children in refugee communities.

Pro bono opportunities to redress international human rights violations abound, both in the U.S. and abroad.  To explore pro bono practices and opportunities abroad, visit PBI’s Global Pro Bono Atlas.

And be sure to drop us a comment if you’re in the know about a compelling global pro bono initiative.