"Law is supposed to be a sacred thread that ties everyone together and protects us," said Legal Empowerment Leadership Course Director and Namati Founder Vivek Maru. "But in many parts of the world, the law is an abstraction, or even a joke." Through legal empowerment, Maru and other practitioners gathered at the Legal Empowerment Leadership Course to cultivate a global cadre of leaders who are committed to the legal empowerment approach.
The legal empowerment approach comprises three transformations summed up by Maru: "Know law, use law, shape law." Community paralegals and other practitioners work to transform law from the abstract to something that is concrete and simple. They also work with ordinary people with legal problems – ranging from land disputes to access to healthcare to citizenship rights – to assist them as they use the law to exercise their rights. Lastly, as people become engaged with the law to address their individual concerns, community paralegals encourage them to take part in shaping the rules and institutions that govern their community.
SPP Acting Dean Julia Buxton said during her opening remarks, "This short course is an opportunity for leading thinkers amongst the development community with a range of perspectives to come together to learn from each other and identify strategies to strengthen justice and development planning and programming."
Course faculty member Lisa Wintersteiger, chief executive and co-founder of Law for Life, noted that law is "only one normative framework that helps to make social life smoother," and that there exist multiple frameworks based on religion or other forms of customary law. Community paralegals operate in a complex environment of various actors, institutions, and layers of law. One of their goals is to "unveil the invisibility of law" and show how these frameworks can coexist and interact.
With 65 participants from 25 countries working at the local, national, and international levels on legal empowerment issues, the course faculty encouraged active discussions, debates, and knowledge sharing among the group. "I realized how important the concept of legal empowerment is. There are many people around the world who cannot access justice, so we need to empower those people and provide knowledge about their rights," remarked SPP student and course participant Sebastian Soto (MPA '17). "These kinds of courses are also very interesting because you can see the social side of development and governance, not only the economic side."
This course was organized by the CEU School of Public Policy's Global Policy Academy, Namati, and the Open Society Justice Initiative in collaboration with the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS) at BRAC University from October 10-14, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.