Our mentoring visits in Croatia were enriching, giving us the possibility to assess the potential of citizen advice services in the country and to identify ways in which such services can be improved and further enhanced. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux in Romania, together with ECAS’s consultant, visited the 6 Triple A pilot projects in Croatia in May and July.
From small NGOs delivering the legal advice services to vulnerable groups in remotes areas of Croatia (SRMA organization from Sinj), to medium size NGOs working on the service as well as on advocating for access to justice (Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights, Osijek), to bigger organization delivering legal advice as well as trying to strategically litigate (Human Rights House, Zagreb and Civil Rights Project, Sisak), to NGOs working for minority rights (Serbian Democratic Forum) and last, but not least, to an amazing group of over 100 students volunteering for the Legal Clinic in Zagreb, we may have faced the whole range in which legal advice services can be delivered.
While the service delivery as it is now in all these 6 projects varies to a great extent, we can certainly say that Triple A project in Croatia proves to be very successful. With the number of beneficiaries ranging from 200 to 1000 for each organization, we were happy to discover touching case studies as well as to identify the main structural issues the free legal advice services cover in Croatia.
First, in terms of individual beneficiaries, we’ve heard stories of citizens that were unable to exercise their social rights until a legal advice provider helped them with the formalities they needed in relation to authorities, with issues ranging from homelessness to domestic violence to social benefits. We’ve heard about strategic litigation cases that reached the Strasbourg Court and relevant examples of human rights violations these organizations work on.
Second, we have learned that the need of legal advice in Croatia is twofold: the social issues are always a challenge for citizens in a context in which the laws on social benefits change at a rapid pace; most legal advice providers still cover issues that are a consequence of the war (status and citizenship, Housing Care Act, war crimes). All Triple A projects mentioned these issues, which only makes a case for the great advocacy potential these organizations have. Moreover, these organisations are already part in networks of NGOs working on the same issues both grassroots, through delivering direct services to citizens and at national level, impacting policy making and implementation. Triple A further helped the synergies and partnerships between these organizations.
While the mentoring was rather focused on expanding the existing services either in the EU-level advice or on capacity building (fundraising through partnerships or enhancing the advocacy side of the organization), what we saw in Croatia was a great need for legal advice and a great potential for success in further improving these services and using them in order to create social change through policy influencing.
Ana-Maria Suciu, NACAB Romania