Avocats Sans Frontières: Wikis


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Avocats Sans Frontières
Avocats Sans Frontières logo
Type Non-profit
Founded 1992
Headquarters Brussels, Belgium
Staff Francesca Boniotti, Executive Director
Hafida Talhaoui, President of the Board of Directors
Area served Justice
Focus Human rights
Method Field interventions, providing access to justice, legal aid and legal assistance
Employees more than 130 full time staff world-wide
Motto Justice for a fairer world.[1]
Website www.asf.be

Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), also known as Advocaten Zonder Grenzen (AdZG), is an independent international non-governmental organization contributing to the creation of fair and equitable societies, in which the law and its institutions serve the most vulnerable groups and individuals. ASF aims to realize this objective through field interventions in the areas of access to justice, legal aid and legal assistance before both national and international jurisdictions such as the International Criminal Court.

The organisation is composed of lawyers and others concerned about justice. The primary strategic objective of ASF is to promote efficient and effective access to justice, including creation of legal systems to protect vulnerable groups. In doing so, it strives to promote respect for fundamental human rights, and, in particular, the right to defence and to a fair trial, which are necessary for installing the rule of law, as well as encouraging the non-violent resolution of disputes and, ultimately, sustainable peace.

ASF has programs in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, East Timor and Uganda and projects in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Nepal. The organization also works on thematic issues such as international criminal justice and globalisation and justice.



Avocats Sans Frontières is also commonly known by its abbreviation "ASF". Its Dutch name is "Advocaten Zonder Grenzen", known by its abbreviation "AdZG". Although the literal translation of "Avocats Sans Frontières" is 'Lawyers Without Borders', ASF does not carry an English name because the name 'Lawyers Without Borders' is alreadw held by another organization. Avocats Sans Frontières has no affiliation with the organization "Lawyers Without Borders". In English texts, the French name 'Avocats Sans Frontières' is used. ASF does not have any relationship with the association "Avocats sans frontières" chaired by Gilles-William Goldnadel.

Key objectives

No peace, no development without Justice.
  • Ensure efficient and effective judicial aid to society’s most vulnerable groups and the creation of a legal system capable of protecting these groups.
  • Promote the respect for fundamental human rights, and, in particular, the right to defence and the right to fair trial.
  • Work for a reduction of poverty through providing people with access to socially conscious justice systems in the spirit of an international redistribution of resources and competences.

Basic principles

ASF is guided by the following basic principles, both as regards the association's activities and its internal organisation:

  • ASF seeks to work independently of any political, religious or philosophical influence.
  • ASF considers universal human rights a basic condition for a more just, equitable and respectful society, domestic or international.
  • ASF is convinced of the importance of cultural, political and religious diversity, and the organisation carries out its activities in an atmosphere of respect of difference and diversity.
  • ASF works according to the principle of complementarity and subsidiarity. Thus, the organisation intervenes only when its action would strengthen the capacities of local actors, or when the latter find themselves incapable of acting.
  • ASF adheres to the principle of active participation of the individual and of groups in determining their own future, and the organisation therefore develops its activities in co-operation, dialogue and/or partnership with local actors.[2]


  • 1992

A group of Solicitors and Barristers from a variety of countries launched the idea of Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) as the lawyers’ contribution to a better world. A core of Belgian Lawyers formed the first group, and a few months later ASF was born in Brussels. The key thought was that lawyers are crucial actors to improve effective protection, the promotion of fundamental rights and liberties in their own countries and abroad. The mission of the our first teams was to help and defend those whose right to a defence was being denied in the country where they were accused, usually because their trial was sensitive. Thus, ASF acted through punctual interventions were defence was at stake. To begin with ASF was financed by its members and a number of Belgian Barrister’s Chambers. Between 1992 and 1996, these funds paid for several urgent defence missions. Under the Solidarity and Defence programme (now re-named Lawyers for Lawyers), ASF lawyers were sent overseas for a week or two at a time to take part in sensitive and often high profile trials. Pierre Legros is elected as President of ASF.

  • 1994

In 1994, the genocide and massacres in Rwanda demanded ASF action. Despite still being ill equipped for such long term projects, the organisation decided to act. Between 1995 and 1998 training courses were organised in Arusha, Tanzania, to train lawyers for appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Rwanda. Bavo Cool is elected as President of ASF.

  • 1996

The project 'Justice for all' is created in Rwanda to help deal with this situation. ASF's first overseas office is opened in Rwanda. Dozens of lawyers take turns defending the accused and representing the victims in Rwandan courts. In carrying out such a large scale project, the group evolved into an international organisation. Above and beyond its initial ambitions of immediate defence and assistance ASF now set itself a new goal: to maintain absolute independence at all times and to strive for a more just, equitable and unified society where law and justice are available to the most vulnerable groups and individuals. The association receives the status of an NGO.

  • 1997

Pierre Legros is elected as President of ASF.

  • 1999

ASF opens a mission office in Burundi.

  • 1998

Luc Walleyn is elected as President of ASF.

  • 2000

ASF opens offices in Kosovo (closed after 6 months), the Democratic Republic of Congo and East Timor. Marc Nève is elected as President of ASF.

  • 2002

Opening of an ASF office in Israel and Palestine. ASF celebrates its 10th anniversary.

  • 2003

ASF is awarded with the Price of Democracy. ASF is nominated to the Peac Price of Ypres.

  • 2004

ASF is awarded with the Solidarity Price of the Flemish newspaper De Standaard. ASF publishes its Mandate, Structure and Internvention Axes for the 2004-2008. Lieven Denys elected President of ASF.

  • 2005

The annual edition of the 20 km Brussels Legal Run is a success. The Touareg Trail action supports ASF work. ASF is nominated Peace Ambassador 2005 by the organisation Pax Christi Flandre.

  • 2006

The project Solidarity and Defence is renamed as Lawyers for lawyers.

  • 2007

ASF opened an office in Kampala, Uganda, in December 2007. Opening of an ASF office in Algeria. On November 27 Avocats Sans Frontières receives the first CCBE Human Rights Award.

  • 2009

ASF opened an office in Soroti, Uganda, in January 2009.

Missions and programmes


Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

ASF's activities in the DRC focus around four axes:

  • To facilitate access to justice for the most vulnerable part of society by ensuring that people in preventive detention and some special cases receive legal assistance; by assisting the prosecutor’s office to regulate cases of arbitrary or illegal detention; and by bringing justice closer to the beneficiaries by organizing itinerary courts in 3 provinces and by organizing permanent and mobile legal aid offices where the population can get free legal advice from lawyers. In 2008 the first transfer of a legal aid office to the Congolese Bar of Matete in Kinshasa took place.
  • Fight against the impunity of international crimes perpetrated in DRC, both at the national and international level by assisting victims in front of Congolese tribunals and of the International Criminal Court, and by building the capacity of local NGOs to better assist victims of such crimes.
  • Prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments by creating a pool of specialized lawyers and by ensuring a regular monitoring of detention centers.
  • In 2008, ASF launched a new activity: fight against impunity for acts of sexual violence, which are perpetrated massively in the DRC.


The primary requirement for a fair solution ot cases arising out of the genocide is the setting of a fair, functioning legal system. ASF works in the areas of law and justice to contribute to the emergence of the rule of law:

  • Legal representation for accused and victims.
  • Publication and dissemination of jurisprudence of proceedings before the Rwandan courts arising out of the genocide.
  • Publication of a handbook on genocide and crimes against humanity in the mainstream Rwandan courts.
  • Publication of a collection of international instruments on human rights and the administration of justice. .
  • Training to build the capacity of those working in the legal system.
  • Training of the Gacaca judges in the regional and appellate Gacaca courts.
  • Monitoring of the regional and appellate Gacaca courts.


The 2008 project on the fight against torture in Uganda “2008” has been the year, for ASF, of the concrete implementation, in the fields, of the regional programme on the fight against torture, managed in Uganda by our programme assistant under the supervision of our regional coordinator based in Kampala. Despite the fact that Uganda ratified in 1986 the International Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments, and that the 1995 Constitution invokes the absence of derogation to the right to be protected from torture, no specific legislation has been adopted to define in domestic law these notions nor organise pursuits or prevent effectively these actions. Seeking the creation of synergies between different actors so as to increase impact, the mission has set up a set of activities strengthening each other:

  • 3 places of detention have been targeted in 2008 after the assessment of intervention priority areas. A team of lawyers, specially trained, were able to conduct awareness campaigns (for male and female prisoners as well as for the penitentiary staff);
  • personal and free legal consultations followed these sessions and enabled to detect certain cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments;
  • free legal representation of victims has been carried out in 18 files before the “Uganda Human Rights Commission” and the “Martial Court”;
  • two trainings for legal actors have been organised in Kampala and Gulu in the North of the country;
  • monitoring committees have also been created to strengthen plea activities;
  • ASF took part in an action, with a coalition of NGOs, for the effective fight against torture and in the elaboration of a national bill proposal that will be submitted to Parliament in 2009.

Elaboration of a new project on access to justice for the most vulnerable in the District of Soroti: Thanks to the European Union funding, a new programme on access to justice for women and children victim of abuses has been conceptualized. Focusing on the District of Soroti, in the North East of the country, working with FIDA-U – a Ugandan NGO of women lawyers, ASF is the only NGO in the country that offers an integrated approach combining:

  • sensitizing of the population in the District’s sub-counties;
  • selection and training of focal points to relay information and direct victims to our legal advice and assistance services;
  • setting up, by trained Ugandan lawyers, of a free legal consultation centre in Soroti and setting up of mobile clinics to reach populations living in the most remote areas;
  • legal representation for the most emblematic cases.

In order to create dynamics and to raise legal actors’ awareness, reflexion and specialisation sessions will be organised with Ugandan lawyers and judges. This pilot project that will be carried out on a yearly period will be set up in 2009 with the recruitment of staff appointed to the programme.


Activities handled by the headquarters Operations from the office in Brussels and collaboration with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. The activities start from a request of a group of lawyers.

These activities aim to promote the respect of international law, and in particular of international humanitarian law, in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. They focus on the two following points: strengthening the abilities of the Israeli and Palestinian lawyers working for the defence of fundamental rights on one hand, and support of the progressive and informal networking of these lawyers on the other. ASF’s work, which is carried out in collaboration with civil society and Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, aims to favour and renew, as far as possible, the dialogue between both sides.

East Timor

Since opening their offices in July 2002, ASF has actively supported both institutional and civil society actors who contribute to the establishment of a democratic state governed by the rule of law, and has done this in a difficult post-conflict context. Through their actions, ASF aims to guarantee justice that is fair and impartial in the service of the local population, especially the most vulnerable groups. To achieve this, ASF participated in the development of a justice system that functions according to international standards whilst respecting local cultures and traditions.

From August 30 to September 12, 2009, ASF's activities in East Timor included: Domestic Violence Training for IDPs; Domestic Violence Awarenesss for IDPs in Liquica Districts; Capacity building of CLLs in Dili including Child Protection Traning; Public Information Sessions in Dili; Public Information via Radio; Provision of Legal Advice and Mediation Services. [3]

Due to a lack of funds, the ASF offices in East Timor needed to close in 2009. However, in order to keep involved for effective justice in East Timor and fight against impunity, ASF has appointed a Special Representative in Timor.


ASF conducted an investigative mission from April 12th to July 31st in 2008. This operation, led by Jean Charles Paras, allowed to acquaint ASF with the Nepalese Justice sector’s institutional framework and the judicial key actors, to evaluate the real extent to which the majority of the Nepalese population has access to justice as well as the state of the question on the fight against international crimes and acts of torture, impunity and, finally, to suggest an intervention strategy for ASF. Based on the conclusions of this explorative mission, ASF’s Board of Directors decided to initiate a pilot programme, as a complement to the diverse supports already brought by several international actors to Nepalese judicial actors, notably Mitigation Package supported by the European Commission. The main axis suggested by ASF is the development of access to justice for the most deprived through a development strategy that puts the Bar at the heart of the Nepalese Justice reinforcement process. Indeed, it clearly appears that: (1) the legal assistance dispensed by lawyers is indeed a tool that is prioritised in access to justice programmes (2) but that the Bar, as a national and decentralized institution, was still not able to sufficiently reinforce this mechanism (notably because the lawyer profession had to confront several stakes in this country – impoverishment, lack of training).

The project suggested by ASF during 2009 for Nepal will be based on two pilot programmes:

  • the pilot programme supporting local Bars’ initiatives (initially Birâtnagar and Pokhara) for the development of access to Justice
  • the pilot programme reinforcing Criminal Justice for minors

Lawyers for Lawyers (Avocat pour Avocat)

Avocats Sans Frontières provides legal services in symbolic cases. It sends its lawyers to assist and/or represent human rights lawyers and human rights activists who are persecuted for exercising their profession. ASF’s interventions vary from country to country: ASF provides expertise to support a foreign lawyer, carries out in-depth enquiries, provides support for those who feel threatened in the exercise of their profession, attends trials as observers, etc. Until now, as part of the Lawyers for Lawyers program, ASF has supported lawyers in and/or sent lawyers to Bolivia, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Guinea, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, Togo and Tunisia.[4]

Globalisation and Justice

The ASF Globalisation and Justice programme aims to facilitate access to justice for those suffering from the negative dimensions of today's globalised economy. The project “globalization and justice” is the first ASF project in Europe. Thanks to this project, ASF promises to improve justice for victims of globalization and corporate abuses. The project’s aim is to create a link between those who need legal expertise (NGOs or other civil society’s actors) and volunteer lawyers. The project is centred on two axes: (1) promotion of legal aid services to European NGOs, working for fairer North-South relations and(2) mobilization of European lawyers about globalization and its consequences on human rights, in particular in developing countries. This is realized in two steps. Firstly, an awareness campaign is launched in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Great Britain. This awareness campaign includes the conference "Justice in a Globalised Economy: what can lawyers do?" in 2007, seminars for lawyers as well as the mobile photo exhibition "Room for Justice". This photo exhibition can be seen in different European cities announced, time and place being announced on the ASF website.Secondly, a Global Legal Network is implemented. Via this international network of lawyers, ASF connects those in need of legal services with legal practitioners offering their expertise to promote justice and human rights. The duration of the Globalisation and Justice programme is three years (2007-2010) and is subsidized by the European Commission.


In 2007, ASF was granted the CCBE Human Rights Award by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. The CCBE presents over 700,000 lawyers from the European Union and European Economic Area through their member Bars and Law Societies. The CCBE award highlights the work of a lawyer or lawyers’ organisation that has brought honour to the legal profession by demonstrating outstanding commitment and sacrifice in upholding fundamental values. The CCBE considers that Avocats Sans Frontières is a remarkable example of effective co-operation between lawyers coming from different countries, with different backgrounds, joining together in the fight for human rights and the rule of law. [5]

Former CCBE President, Colin Tyre QC, said: “I am proud to present our first award to Avocats Sans Frontières, an organisation which, through the courage and commitment of lawyers from all over the world, has achieved tremendous on-the-ground results for the benefit of the very people who most need access to justice. There could not be better illustration of what can be achieved by the legal profession in the improvement of social conditions.” [6]

In December 2005, Avocats Sans Frontières was named Peace Ambassador for 2005 by the Flemish centre Pax Christi Flanders. Each year, this prize rewards individuals or groups dedicated to peace in the Flandre region and abroad. This nomination emphasizes ASF’s contribution abroad in the field of justice and its actions for a fairer world – especially regarding the protection and promotion of the basic individual rights.[7] [8]

In 2004, ASF received the Solidarity Prize (Solidariteitsprijs) from the Flemish daily newspaper De Standaard. [9]

See also


  1. ^ "Homepage". Avocats Sans Frontières. http://www.asf.be/index.php?module=home&lang=en. Retrieved 16 November 2009.  
  2. ^ "Mandate of ASF". Avocats Sans Frontières. http://www.asf.be/index.php?module=publicaties&lang=en&id=169. Retrieved 18 November 2009.  
  3. ^ "Humanitarian Update Timor-Leste". OCHA/UNMIT Integrated Humanitarian Coordination Team. http://unmit.unmissions.org/Portals/UNMIT/Repository/Humanitarian%20Update%2016%20September.48c54813-5c13-40fa-b7cc-6cd2d535c974.pdf. Retrieved 17 November 2009.  
  4. ^ "Lawyers for Lawyers". Avocats Sans Frontières. http://www.asf.be/index.php?module=programmas&lang=en&id=146. Retrieved 17 November 2009.  
  5. ^ "CCBE Human Rights Award granted to Avocats Sans Frontières". The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). http://www.ccbe.org/fileadmin/user_upload/NTCdocument/pr_1407_ENpdf1_1196175494.pdf. Retrieved 16 November 2009.  
  6. ^ "CCBE Human Rights Award granted to Avocats Sans Frontières". The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). http://www.ccbe.org/fileadmin/user_upload/NTCdocument/pr_1407_ENpdf1_1196175494.pdf. Retrieved 16 November 2009.  
  7. ^ "Ambassadeurs voor de vrede 2005". Pax Christi. http://www.paxchristi.be/website/wordpress/?p=288. Retrieved 17 November 2009.  
  8. ^ "ASF awarded Peace Ambassador 2005". Avocats Sans Frontières. http://www.asf.be/index.php?module=news&lang=en&id=26. Retrieved 17 November 2009.  
  9. ^ "Advocaten Zonder Grenzen wint tweede De Standaard Solidariteitsprijs". De Standaard. http://www.standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=GJE81SRQ&word=advocaten+zonder+grenzen. Retrieved 17 November 2009.  

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