The Equality and Human Rights Action Center (ACTEDO) has been shortlisted for PILnet’s 2016 European Award for Local Pro Bono Impact for its clearinghouse, Pro Bono Network for Human Rights. The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights matches lawyers and law firms with individuals belonging to vulnerable groups whose rights have been violated or with human rights NGOs working with vulnerable groups. Since its launch in 2014, the Network has partnered with 4 law firms and 50 individual pro bono lawyers, and provided legal assistance to NGOs across Romania on various issues, including discrimination, gender violence, rights of people with disabilities, and hate speech. In addition to helping individuals and NGOs receive free legal advice and representation in court, ACTEDO’s Pro Bono Network has also worked to promote legislation regarding human rights and to raise awareness on the vulnerability of certain groups. ACTEDO hopes to promote a pro bono culture and passion for human rights among Romania’s legal professionals. Through a more consistent partnership between lawyers and NGOs, the Network aims to reconfigure the legal profession as a “consolidated democracy”, and to ensure equality before the law for all, regardless of financial ability. Among its initiatives, the Pro Bono Network for Human Rights has held training sessions on anti-discrimination legislation and case-law, working meetings, as well as two public debates on access to justice and the use of the legal clinic as a human rights tool, both of which were attended by over 100 participants. ACTEDO has created a methodology that it hopes will be easy to understand and replicate in different environments, regardless of political, social or economic background.
The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights has achieved a 100% acceptance rate of eligible cases by pro bono lawyers. In Romania, eligibility is defined by the violation of fundamental human rights or belonging to a vulnerable group or NGO working with a vulnerable group. These groups include those with disabilities or HIV/AIDS, victims of gender violence, LGBTQI, Roma people, youth over 18 leaving state care, women, families with more than two children and single parent families at risk, children and elderly people at risk, formerly convicted individuals, drug and alcohol addicts, homeless people, chronically ill people, refugees and asylum seekers. In 2015 alone, the Network helped to assist 23 cases of human rights violations across Romania. It provided pro bono legal assistance to 100 individual persons and 5 NGOs, including Fundatia Desire, Exista Viata dupa Doliu, the Romanian Foundation for Children, Community and Family (FRCCF), the Organization for Promoting Alternative Transport in Romania (OPTAR) and Asociatia Voci Nesuzite (Unheard Voices).
By helping provide free legal services to vulnerable individuals and NGOs, ACTEDO and their partners hope to contribute to a society built on civic engagement, tolerance, and respect for human rights, in which human rights legislation is effectively implemented. According to them, the first step to attain this goal is to revive trust in the legal system in people of all backgrounds by empowering them and enabling them to defend their rights.