Today, DefendDefenders and Goldsmiths University London launched a policy brief and three-episode podcast, ‘On the Legal Frontline: Lawyers and Paralegals as Human Rights Defenders in the East and Horn of Africa’. The brief examines the work of lawyers and legal activists in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region to identify their challenges, and strategies used to promote human rights.
“Lawyers are a key component of the justice system, and usually the first line of defense against human rights abuses,” saysHassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “They play a critical role in strengthening fragile state institutions and the rule of law, and we need to create an environment in which they can continue their essential work,” Shire continues.
The policy brief and podcast introduce lawyers and legal activists from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. While navigating a complex legal terrain, the lawyers are drawing creatively upon a range of national, regional, and international statutes and mechanisms to secure human rights for all.
However, in the course of their work, they are routinely subjected to intimidation and violence. The policy brief identifies three major challenges lawyers face while navigating the justice systems. First, the majority of people lack access to formal courts and lawyers; second, statutory laws and legal instruments are subject to political interference and are often used by governments to repress political opponents, civil society, and critical voices; and, third, customary dispute settlement mechanisms and religious courts, as well as authorities, enforce laws which violate basic human rights, especially women’s rights.
Promoting human rights in such environments, and amid these multifaceted justice systems, is extremely challenging. It is essential that the work of lawyers is respected, and that civil society organisations (CSOs), donors, and state authorities recognize and encourage the crucial work of lawyers, and the fundamental role they play as human rights pillars in our societies.