Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Eye Opener to Justice

In late March, Megan Chapman spent a short week with Global Rights’ three local partner organizations in Bundibugyo, Uganda – Child Concerns Initiatives Organisation (CCIO), Bundibugyo NGO/CBO Forum, and Bundibugyo Women’s Federation (BUWOFE) – and met a number of paralegals and program beneficiaries in their communities. Earlier blog posts have highlighted success stories from Bundibugyo. This post is the first in a series focused on the paralegals themselves, aiming to give a fuller picture of just a few of these volunteers working on the front lines of justice and legal empowerment in their communities.

Just five days after completing his initial training with 14 other new paralegals working with BUWOFE, Tibamwenda John had already helped to resolve two incidents of domestic violence in his parish within Nyahuka Town Council. John is six years retired from a long career in government service with the Ugandan Prisons Service and nearly a decade as the parish chief.

Although he protests he is too old to ride the bicycle that BUWOFE gave him to assist with his paralegal work, it is evident that retirement is not slowing him down.

With a broad grin and a chuckle, John agrees that we can “foot” to his home once I assure him I can handle the kilometer distance and, yes, even the mud. We exit the one-room Nyahuka Town Council office, where he serves as the Chairman of the Local Council III (LC3) Court, and head up the rutted road toward the DRC border. He points out the main hospital in town where one of his wives works and he serves as a volunteer board member. Up another hillside, he points to a house in a grove of cacao trees and explains with quiet pride how he and one wife have used money earned from cacao – a major local cash crop – to build a permanent structure (made from bricks rather than the more common mud and sticks), complete with a zinc roof and real metal doors, even while managing to send all their children to university.

Along the way, we take a detour via the house of a woman who chairs the 20-person BUWOFE “self-help group” of which John is one of just three male members. The group originally formed a savings and credit cooperative with support from BUWOFE during Bundibugyo’s recovery from years of insurgency and now raises awareness in the community on issues like domestic violence and girl-child education. It is this group that elected John to be trained as a paralegal.

It only takes a few moments of conversation to understand the reasons that John was given this vote of confidence. Hard work and volunteerism seem to run at his core. Sitting under a picture of Barack Obama in the small house that belonged to his first wife (now of late) from which he plans to do his paralegal work, John explains his motivations.

John's paralegal log book where he records the cases
he handles
As the LC3 Chairperson, he is already involved in local dispute resolution (the third level of appeals in the local court system recognized by the Ugandan state the operates side-by-side with judiciary). But, he explains, the LC3 is required to charge fees; as a paralegal, he can help people closer to home and without court fees. Moreover, he hopes to be able to prevent disputes.

In this regard, he is most keen to receive a follow-up training promised by BUWOFE on will-writing: “Once I have received that training, I will be able to help so many to stop fighting in their families!”

Just before we leave John's home, Joshua, the BUWOFE coordinator, takes out a bag of  t-shirts that have just been printed for all the newly trained paralegals. John holds up the shirt that will identify him, although I suspect little identification is needed around here, as “Paralegal – eye opener to justice.” 

- Megan

P.S. Click here to view a photo album from my trip to Uganda!

Posted by Megan Chapman

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We Must Commit to Protect Women

"The lesson is that we must be committed permanently to the adoption of legislation against violence against women, in all its forms. Once fully enacted, this legislation will provide protection to the woman when she is being abused or threatened. We need the perpetrators of these crimes to be tried for violations of human rights."  – Ambassador Melanne Verveer (translated from French transcript)

Last week, Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, was in Morocco as part of a trip to Morocco and Tunisia to discuss ways to advance women’s empowerment and political and economic participation. Among other leaders in women’s rights, Ambassador Verveer had an opportunity to meet with our Maghreb Regional Director, Stephanie Willman Bordat.  The two were able to discuss the current situation of women’s rights in Morocco and agree that a violence against women (VAW) law in the country must be passed.

Global Rights Maghreb team and local partners at a sit-in at
the Moroccan Parliament for Amina Filali
Ambassador Verveer’s visit occurred while Morocco is still reeling from the tragic suicide of Amina Filali, a 16 year old girl who took her life after being forced to marry her rapist in order to preserve the honor of her family. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code (yes, the actual law) allows a “kidnapper” to marry his victim if she is a minor, even though legal marriage age in Morocco is 18.

The ability of her rapist to escape responsibility for his crime is not only due to Article 475 but, also because of the lack of strong laws to protect women from violence.   Since 2006, the Moroccan government has been promising a VAW bill but, to date, the Family Ministry has not presented such a bill to the entire cabinet for approval.

Yet, model legislation is ready, crafted as a result of the hard work done by a vast network of women’s organizations that span the breadth and depth of the country.  To see the VAW legislation our local partners drafted, click here for Arabic, and a summary in French and English.

Global Rights has been working with these women’s organizations for over ten years to build their knowledge and skills on women’s legal rights in Morocco.  Coordinated by Global Rights, Moroccan women have come together to draft model legislation to combat violence against women.  Such legislation is needed to prevent more young girls and women, like Amina, from taking their own lives because of violence that has been perpetrated against them, for which they have no recourse. 

In 2009, the Maghreb team and their local partners organized an unprecedented three-week caravan throughout Morocco to mobilize support for a NGO drafted violence against women legislation. The caravan stopped in 33 cities, towns, and villages and had over 2,000 people participating in round table conferences and awareness-raising sessions.  Unlike anything that has been done before, this caravan encouraged women to speak out about domestic violence. At each and every event, participants told Global Rights at least one story of a woman who had committed suicide to escape from violence.

Ambassador Verveer’s remarks noted that the case of Amina Filali was a “wake up call” to take steps to pass a VAW law in Parliament.  I want to thank Ambassador Verveer for making the strong statement she did. We support the repeal of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code and encourage a strong law that more comprehensively protects women from violence.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth