Created in 2001, the International Legal Foundation (ILF) is a non-governmental organization that assists countries emerging from conflict or transition to establish public defender systems that provide effective, quality criminal defense services to the poor. In 2003, the ILF opened Afghanistan’s first independent public defender office in Kabul, and has since established public defender offices in Nepal and the West Bank.
The lack of qualified lawyers available to provide criminal defense representation to the poor is a serious problem in post-conflict and transitional countries. Many of these countries guarantee the right to counsel to persons accused of crimes in their constitutions and other domestic laws. Moreover, many have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires them to ensure the right to counsel. Yet in practice, there are few defense lawyers for the poor in many developing countries. Those that do practice are often grossly unqualified. Without access to counsel there can be no rule of law and accused persons remain vulnerable to arbitrary detention, coerced and tortured confessions, wrongful convictions and other abuses.
The ILF fulfills an essential role in post-conflict reconstruction. Although there is a growing focus on rule of law in post-conflict countries, rule of law projects have placed a heavy emphasis on rebuilding courts and law enforcement institutions and give little attention to the critical role of defense, particularly criminal defense services for the poor. The ILF addresses this need by providing indigent accused persons with access to competent, well-trained defense lawyers. This helps to ensure that laws and constitutional provisions protecting the rights of the accused are implemented and that all citizens have equal access to justice.