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Kampala declaration calls on African governments to support community paralegals

Kampala declaration calls on African governments to support community paralegals

Kampala, Uganda – More than fifty organizations from twenty African countries are urging governments to strengthen access to justice and accountability across the continent by embracing the potential of community paralegals.

The Kampala Declaration on Community Paralegals, issued today, reflects a new push to seek wider government recognition of the role of paralegals in resolving conflict, supporting access to state services, and fighting corruption.

The declaration, which follows a meeting in Kampala from July 9-11, calls on governments to do three things: to recognize the role community paralegals play in providing primary justice services, to invest in the scale-up of paralegal efforts, and to protect the independence of paralegals.

Community paralegals use knowledge of law and government and tools like mediation, organizing, education, and advocacy to seek concrete solutions to instances of injustice.  Paralegals are connected to lawyers who offer guidance and who can resort to litigation when other methods fail.

“Community paralegals are the frontline of our struggle for justice,” said Donald Rukare, country director of Global Rights Uganda, which co-hosted the meeting with the Open Society Justice Initiative and the legal empowerment organization Namati.  “Paralegals make the law work for people.”

The declaration points to recent legislation including a legal aid law passed in Sierra Leone in May of this year, which calls for a community paralegal to serve in every chiefdom of the country.

“Government recognition is crucial for the legitimacy and sustainability of paralegal efforts,” said Namati’s Sierra Leone team leader Sonkita Conteh, who advocated for the new legal aid law.  “But state recognition should not entail state control, because paralegals play an important role in holding governments accountable.”

Signatories to the declaration also commit to strengthening the quality and consistency of paralegal efforts, through better training, supervision, and community oversight.

At the meeting in Kampala, Nomboniso Maqubela shared the experience of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) in South Africa, which represents 230 paralegal offices across the country.  NADCAO seeks to secure lasting support for paralegal efforts through a combination of government spending, foundations, and community contributions.  Community paralegals have been active in South Africa since the 1950s, when paralegals began assisting black South Africans to navigate and resist the codes of apartheid.

Descartes Malasi of the Congolese NGO Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA) described paralegals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who assist communities to hold mining firms accountable for environmental damage and unpaid compensation.

“Law and government should not be abstractions sealed in books or courtrooms,” said Namati CEO Vivek Maru.  “Paralegals in Africa are part of a growing global movement for legal empowerment.”

Participants in the meeting plan to continue to collaborate through the Global Legal Empowerment Network that Namati hosts.

The Kampala Declaration remains open for further signatures at www.namati.org/kampala-declaration.

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