I was struck by the “frontline” role that paralegals play in Africa. With limited numbers of lawyers in many African countries, and fewer still outside of urban areas, community-based paralegals lead the charge in filling the justice gap.
We see it ourselves every day from our paralegal trainings and mentorships in Morocco, Northern Nigeria and Uganda.
Paralegals not only fill the justice gap, but they also help resolve conflicts – large and small – throughout Africa. They help people solve family conflicts. Paralegals assist individuals, especially women and children, seek protection from violence. They help people navigate confusing criminal justice systems. They help resolve conflicts over land and natural resources. They help people access health care and education. The list goes on and on.
At this frontline vantage point, paralegals can also often see underlying problems brewing in a community. In this way paralegals can serve as an early warning and early prevention system to help mitigate a bigger conflict from occurring.
At the end of our workshop, more than fifty organizations from twenty African countries called on governments to acknowledge the critically important role that paralegals play. In the Kampala Declaration on Community Paralegals, our partners urged governments to do three things: recognize the role community paralegals play in providing primary justice services, invest more in paralegal efforts, and protect the independence of paralegals.
We know if governments more actively support paralegals, the return on the investment for their countries will be great.
I want to thank USAID for their support, and Namati and Open Society Justice Initiative for being such dynamic and forward-thinking co-sponsors of the workshop with Global Rights. I especially want to thank the eighty-plus paralegals who actively participated in the workshop last month. But, more importantly, I want to thank them for engaging every day in their communities at the frontline of justice.
Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth