Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) works to make the legal system accessible to the poor and the marginalised. The organisation seeks to reach out to this section of society, raising their awareness and understanding of available rights, remedies and services, and seeking to ensure greater responsiveness to their needs from within the justice system.
BLAST’s core activities focus on legal aid (advice, referral, mediation, litigation and community awareness) for the poor and those who are marginalised, related research, advocacy (including public interest litigation) and communications to address discriminatory and arbitrary laws. They also undertake capacity building and training for key actors in the justice system.
Public interest litigation
Alongside individual legal aid, BLAST undertakes strategic litigation, or public interest litigation, as a key part of its advocacy for law and policy reforms to ensure the effective legal protection of rights.
BLAST aims to improve access to justice by building the capacity of legal service providers and other actors in the justice sector. BLAST's activities in this area include staff training; capacity building for management committee members and panel lawyers; awareness programmes for clients; capacity building on rights and collaborative events to strengthen justice delivery focused on the remedies available under particular laws or for particular groups.
Advocacy and networking
BLAST organises a number of advocacy meetings, workshops and seminars on a range of issues to not only facilitate changes in Bangladesh’s laws, but also increase discourse around issues of justice in Bangladesh.
To ensure a just and accessible legal system in Bangladesh, the organisation believes it is also essential to forge and strengthen existing partnerships and strategic alliances in key areas of their work. They work closely in formal and informal networks with other organisations and coalitions both nationally and locally, including on documentation research, investigation, advocacy and public interest litigation.
BLAST's research activities are complementary to its legal aid and public interest litigation and advocacy activities. BLAST conducted several small scale research studies on various issues, relating to its ongoing advocacy including implementation and follow up of Supreme Court judgements.
Its major achievements include:
- BLAST has resolved through alternate dispute resolution over 15,000 disputes across the country on issues pertaining to family, land, finances, petty crime, and labour.
- BLAST has represented over 35,000 people, mostly women, since 2003. It has won the majority of its cases.
- BLAST organises courtyard meetings to educate communities about their human and legal rights. It also organises training workshops for local leaders.
- Gopigah Legal Aid Clinic: BLAST has established a legal aid clinic in the slums of Dhaka to increase awareness of and realisation of legal rights. Special attention is paid to domestic violence.
- BLAST has conducted investigations into over 175 human rights violations impacting women, children, religious and ethnic minorities, and the community at large.
- Since 1996 BLAST has filed 82 separate writs by way of public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. These petitions have resulted in judicial orders on government authorities to comply with statutory duties and have led to the expansive interpretation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Bangladesh.
- BLAST has undertaken advocacy for and facilitated major amendments to the National Legal Services Act and various Labour Laws. It was also a key member in the drafting committee of an NGO Network the Coalition of Voices Against Domestic Violence, which resulted in the Domestic Violence Bill. It is currently involved in several other Advocacy Networks including one on protecting the rights of Domestic Workers.
- BLAST has developed relationships with other NGOs, judges, lawyers, the government, and the media in order to ensure effective legal protection of rights. BLAST has developed relationships with rights organisations in Nepal, Pakistan, and India to facilitate the repatriation of foreign nationals in Bangladeshi prisons and Bangladeshi nationals in foreign prisons.
The Short Film Competition “My Choice, My Rights” 2017 was organized by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), BRAC University. This short film competition was aimed to allow the organisers to continue engagement with a critical segment of young people (16-30 years), and are intended to focus the attention of the public on current issues and concerns regarding the rights to consent and choice with regards to marriage, personal liberty, and freedom of expression and the threats resulting from gender-based violence or discrimination, in particular those affecting young people.
This being the second time the competition was organised, the competition was held on the theme "My life, my rights" and the slogan for the competition was "My Choice, My Rights". The competition was open to all Bangladeshis between years 16-30, from 1st November till 30th November 2017.
The Award Giving Ceremony of the competition was held on 6 December 2017, at 5pm at the Natioanl Chitrashala Auditorium, Shilpakala Academy. At the event, HE Leoni Cuelenaere was present at the Chief Guest, with Rokeya Prachy, Actor and Director as Special Guest. Barrister Sara Hossain, Hon. Executive Director, BLAST and Malay Kanti MRIDHA, Associate Professor BRAC JPGSPH was also present at the event, along with honourable members of the jury board – Shireen Huq, Member, Naripokkho; Dr. Gitiara Nasreen, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka; and Dr. Zakir Hossain Raju, Professor, Department of Media and Communication, Independent University, Bangladesh.
Sayma Farzana won the competition for her short film “Sajj”. Umme Ayesha is the 1st runner up for her short film “Ami Anika” (I am Anika” and Md. Ashraf Ali is the 2nd runner up for his short film “Korimon Bibi”. The winners each received cash prizes, crests and certificates.