Raising the Scales of Justice: Rehabilitation of Benghazi’s Eastern Courthouse

Benghazi courthouse 1Inside the newly renovated entrance of the courthouse, with the interior freshly painted and the repaired electrical system. Photo: ©UNDP/Nada Elfeituri.

After the assassination of a prominent judge in April 2014, the courthouses in Benghazi closed  and the justice sector succumbed to the violence that had plagued the city. For Seraj Younis, an appeals lawyer with 17 years of experience working in this field, this was another blow to the already fragile legal system. “We were just beginning to regain some level of stability following the 2011 revolution, but we were forced to stop again in 2014.”

Siraj’s work focuses primarily on criminal and corporate law, and this halt in the judicial system meant that he could no longer continue his cases. “There were many clients who had to withdraw their cases and solve these problems on their own. They resorted to ‘social law’, depending on families and tribal representatives to sort cases. But a lot of the time, using this method means having to concede some of your rights to reach a compromise with the other party.”

Highlights

  • Many of the courthouses in Benghazi were in or near areas of fighting when the war broke out in October 2014. When the decision was taken for all legal personnel to resume work in the city in 2015, they were stalled by the lack of a headquarters.
  • Implemented by UNDP, SFL renovated the main administrative building of the court complex, and the washrooms, repaired the electrical system, replaced doors and windows, and painted the interior and exterior of the building. The courthouse has been operational since March 2017 and sees between 150 – 200 court cases a month.

Many of the courthouses in Benghazi were in or near areas of fighting when the war broke out in October 2014. When the decision was taken for all legal personnel to resume work in the city in 2015, they were stalled by the lack of a headquarters. “We felt an urgency to resume the court cases, because there were many people waiting for their court date,” described Leila Abdulaziz, a legal counselor in the appeals court. 

Benghazi courthouse2A citizen holding a court file. Photo: ©UNDP/Nada Elfeituri.

“We felt an urgency to resume the court cases, because there were many people waiting for their court date,” described Leila Abdulaziz, a legal counselor in the appeals court. “We deal with civil cases such as those related to property disputes, as well as criminal cases. Some people were waiting in prison for the courts to resume, and their rights were on the line.” A decision was made to relocate the courts whose buildings were inaccessible to one temporary location in the Southern courthouse until the main buildings could be repaired. But this courthouse was not big enough to host the entire judicial sector of the city.

“There was only one hall to conduct our hearings, and often we’d have to rush through proceedings because there was another session that needed the hall,” described Leila. “We didn’t have offices, or a space to discuss cases after a session, or archives for our files.”

In the the Bu’Atni district there is another courthouse for the city, the Benghazi East Courthouse, which was severed damaged during the intense clashes that occurred in early 2015  in the area. Windows and doors were broken, and missiles damaged the building structure. Aside from the damage of war, the building had also fallen into disrepair after it was closed in 2014. The Stabilization Facility for Libya team met with representatives of the court to identify what assistance could be provided.

Implemented by UNDP, SFL renovated the main administrative building of the court complex, and the washrooms, repaired the electrical system, replaced doors and windows, and painted the interior and exterior of the building. The courthouse has been operational since March 2017 and sees between 150 – 200 court cases a month.

“The headquarters is one of the most important things for me to do my job and help those with cases in the court,” said Leila. “Having an office, a place to meet with lawyers, judges and citizens, gives me some level of stability.”

Benghazi courthouse3A police car parked outside Benghazi's Eastern Courthouse complex, with uniformed police waiting outside. Law and order have gradually begun to return to Benghazi. Photo: ©UNDP/Nada Elfeituri.

One citizen spoke of resuming a case related to compensation of his property, which he had been struggling to resolve after the courts closed. “We’re sick of the lawlessness and chaos. I want to solve my case in through the law, and now that the courts are back I can get justice. We hope that all the courthouses reopen again and that Benghazi becomes a city of law and order.” 

“This project has benefited a lot of people,” said Siraj, “And it’s a positive step forward for the judicial system. SFL has helped us in achieving a solution to our issues. We’ll continue working to support the rule of law in Benghazi and ensure that all citizens have their rights protected.”

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