Making the Law Work for All

December 8, 2015

In too many places around the world, it is only the privileged members of society who are able to use the law to assert and protect their rights. There is a broad and growing movement, however, to change that. Namati: Innovations in Legal Empowerment is playing a leading role mobilizing and partnering with individuals, organizations, and governments around the world to provide all people with access to the tools and protection that the law offers.

Participants came from 16 countries and extraordinarily diverse backgrounds for what Peng Ding described as "an in-depth cross-cultural exchange." Ding, a senior program director and researcher at the Public Interest and Development Law Institute in China, said that he learned a lot during the Legal Empowerment Leadership Course from hearing what others had done to legally empower people in their countries. "The framework of rule of law and the legal safeguards of human rights is not traditionally rooted in most developing countries," he explained, "so we need to find effective ways to introduce the ideas of good governance and community legal empowerment to specific countries."

Emma Day, a human rights lawyer and co-founder of the International Child Redress Project in Indonesia, also commented on the value of hearing about the experience of "grassroots activists from countries as diverse as South Africa, Guatemala, Ukraine, the United States, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and many more."

Prior to joining SPP in fall 2014, Primrose Ratidzo Mungwari (MPA '16) was one of those grassroots activists. "I worked for a women's rights organization in Zimbabwe that used 'legal empowerment' as a way to assist women, particularly in rural areas, to assert and defend their rights," she said. Mutonhori says that the course was a valuable opportunity for her to get a clearer understanding about the direction in which the movement is going.

George Soros Visiting Chair Yasmin Sooka led a case study on the community paralegal movement in South Africa. Photo: SPP/Daniel Vegel

The Legal Empowerment Leadership Course was organized by the Open Society Justice Initiative, Namati, BRAC, and the Global Policy Academy at the School of Public Policy. It included presentations on topics such as the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and case studies on land and natural resource rights in India; making health services in Guatemala more accountable to the people; and the community paralegal movement in South Africa. Many participants commented on the value of hearing these detailed case studies. They were enthusiastic also about the opportunities to break into working groups, and to share reflections on what the movement had accomplished – and what its priorities should be going forward.

During the wrap-up session, Course Director Vivek Maru noted that the inclusion of Goal 16 ("Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.") as one of the UN's 16 Sustainable Development Goals had been a "huge victory" for Namati, and for the legal empowerment movement. He went on to observe that there was still a lot to be done to ensure that Goal 16 was translated into meaningful change in communities around the world.

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