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These are individual stories of hope and rescue. Don’t be dismayed by the apparent size of the problem: look at what a few people with a passion for justice can do when they get together and support one another. In 2008 over 64000 benefitted from CLEAR’s services. All of these were from the very poorest societies in East Africa.
In many ways they are at the coal-face of the justice system in Uganda. Day by day they are constantly coming up against cases of injustice in the Police Stations and Courts of Kampala; identifying those that have over-stayed on remand and those against whom there is no realistic case to answer!
On average, they reach 2,800 suspects every month, sensitising them about their rights whilst in detention, linking them with potential sureties and identifying those suspects who are willing to plead guilty, so their cases can be fast-tracked.
Here are some of their stories.
Our paralegal at Katwe Police Station, Bob, has observed that,
”when they are detained, most people’s eyes become tough. When you first enter the narrow cells and the crack-proof door is closed behind you, you are left at the mercy of the other suspects. All the people in the cells need assistance but from whom? It is only the paralegals who provide free assistance to these suspects. Why? Because we believe it is our Christian calling. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to ‘seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow.’ And where do we meet all these people? Amongst those in the Police cells.”
Geofrey Bwire's story
It is conviction that keeps our paralegals going; getting up early for the suspects’ parade and battling day-in and day-out to see that justice is done. As paralegal, Geofrey Bwire observes, “Criminal justice institutions make many lay people frightened and often they feel uncomfortable even seeking help there. The presence of the paralegals has offered them a solution to their fears.”
And Geofrey cites one of the accused persons he has helped: “I do not trust the Police.” says the accused “They can arrest you and charge you with any offence. I fear them.” But Geofrey finds that many people find it easier to approach paralegals for direction, counsel and even to be educated than the Police officers.
Someone unjustly accused of a narcotics offence, facing 10 years imprisonment, acquitted with the help of CLEAR Advocates, now works for CLEAR in expanding the ministry into the Mombasan prisons.
"Girls as young as 9 years of age are given for marriage by their parents. The husband may have many wives already and be mzees (old men)," we were told by the Pastor. He went on to say, "that there is no word in the Samburu language for virgin, as tragically there are none". The girls know nothing about the proposed wedding until the day before, when they undergo female circumcision. He described the damaging effect on the growth of the church, as girls who are growing in their faith, are taken and unable to return to the church.
Nine of us had come to Maralal for a legal mission weekend. We were hearing of the particular problems in this area, from Pastor Lucas of the Pentecostal church. He also told us that wife inheritance is still practised here and even wife rental. We needed the Pastor to clarify "wife rental". It is when a husband agrees, that his wife can stay with another man, for a monthly fee. HIV rates are, of course high.
The CLEAR office had contacted the Pastor of this Mission Church and offered to conduct a legal seminar. Within days, the Pastor had travelled to Nairobi to discuss a programme to address the problems, which all the Pastors in the town were reporting.
Mobile phones rarely work in Maralal making planning for this seminar, to be held 8 hours north of Nairobi, difficult. 10 Pastors attended, each making detailed notes. Old women in traditional Samburu dress had walked from far and listened to the seminars. The church was full and the majority were women. Some information was very new to them, but they listened with interest. Pastor Lucas later said that they were tired with the old ways. The topics covered on that day were Marriage, Divorce, Children's Issues and Succession and HIV law. The talks were translated into Samburu. The questions asked reflected the real problems in this area and the people’s desire for change. There is the possibility of reaching out from Maralal to the "Interior". Pastor Lucas’s final words to us were "Come again as soon as you can".
Girl raped by seven men
On 26th February 2002 an under age girl, a muslim, 17 years old, came to CLEAR for legal help. She had been raped by 7 men on the 19th day of August 2001 while she had gone to buy vegetables for sale from a certain farm in Likoni. The three farm attendants summoned four more men (colleagues) from the neighbouring farm and armed with a sharp assault axe threatened her with death if she made any noise. They grapped the 1 ½ year old baby from her back and while some watched over the baby the rest raped her in turns. She reported the matter to Likoni police station on the same day. Two of them were arrested and charged in court. The case has been heard several times in court No.10 and one of the accused pleaded guilty when the matter came up early February and was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment with 3 strokes of the cane. The other five rapists have never been arrested. The police are reluctant and they demand money whenever the girl goes to the police station to enquire why the arrests have not been made. The said rapists are known in the area and have been harassing and threatening her with dire consequences if they are arrested. The girl who comes from an extremely poor family came to CLEAR for assistance. Mr. Wameyo Advocate is handling this case.
(A KCLF Lawyer’s Report)
"This is one of the saddest cases I have handled. CLEAR asked me to represent the lady against whom her husband had filed suit and obtained a restraining order. She was forced to sleep outside though she was 7 months pregnant and nursing another child below 2 years. With the help of a colleague (also a member of KCLF), we conducted the defence of the case on her behalf and the suit was dismissed with costs. She later gave birth to twins and I filed for her a suit in the children's court seeking maintenance for the 3 children. She was given interim orders for maintenance of ksh. 2,000/ per week (£20) pending the hearing of the application inter-partes. Her husband has been paying the weekly ksh. 2,000/. I have advised the client to invest the amount in a business (because it is quite a sum by her standards) instead of 'eating' all of it since her husband may lose his job in the future."
William Wambiru was jointly convicted of robbery with violence with Anna Njagi in 1984. They appealed to the High Court which upheld their convictions before appealing to the Court of Appeal in 1988. In its judgement in 1988 the Court of Appeal stated that if the lower courts had considered the appellant’s alibi defence and rejected the evidence of his recognition (which was extremely unreliable), “it is doubtful whether the courts below would have come to the same conclusion [to convict].” In other words the convictions were unsafe and yet they dismissed the appeal.
William reported this matter to the Standing Committee on Human Rights. However, no action was taken until CLEAR brought his case to their attention after he filled in a CLEAR Prison Legal Aid questionnaire. A letter has now been written to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, copied to the Attorney General and the Chief Justice. It is hoped that justice will prevail, considering that Mr Wambiru should have had his conviction quashed in 1988.
Nine employees from Life Ministry or Campus Crusade (this is an international Christian organization) reported to CLEAR that they were suffering under their regional director. We listened to their complaints and thereafter wrote to their continental Director who is station in Harare, Zimbabwe. Their complaints against him were two-fold:-
In fact, he has been paying them very meager salaries indeed and most employees have not had a salary increase in years. This was in spite of funding being poured into the Ministry from international donors………employees suspected that the Canadian donors became aware of what was happening and therefore the funding from Canada was withdrawn.
Another factor which prevented them from speaking out, was the desire to protect the Ministry and not to damage its reputation by openly complaining about their Director in public.
CLEAR therefore requested for an urgent investigation in the matters set out in our report, which we compiled and sent with our letter. We informed them that the employees did not wish to follow the Court route and that is why we took the time to compile the report to them. However, we informed them that if they did not act quickly then we would assist these employees to seek redress from the Court.
Investigations have been done. A major overhaul has taken place. The National Director has been removed and XX has been moved. The complainants’ grievances are now being looked into by the new National director. The Ministry has now come up with policies not only for the Kenyan office but also for all its offices in the whole continent of Africa.
Tatu has two sons and when her husband left her she was without the means to feed them or send them to school. The CLEAR Mombasa office obtained an attachment of earnings order for maintenance, which the local authority duly collected from her husband – only to keep them in the treasury! It took CLEAR lawyers 8 months and an arrest warrant against the Town Clerk before the funds were released to a desperate family.
Agabus was only 18 when the police picked him up in Kasese town one evening on his way to a friends house. They found that he had 60,000 shillings (£20) in his pockets and decided that he must have stolen the money. He was remanded into custody and charged with a theft that had taken place that evening in another village. Agabus mother and father tried in vain to find out why he was imprisoned but were told there was nothing they could do.
Jenny Riddell, from CLEAR's partner, UCLF in Kasese, met Agabus when she went to the local prison in Kasese to teach prisoners on how they could represent themselves in court. With many people uneducated and unable to answer the technical legal questions they are asked they are often falsely sentenced for crimes they haven’t committed. Agabus (who had been studying at secondary school at the time of his arrest) immediately stood out from the other prisoners as a polite, well educated and inquisitive man and volunteered to act as a translator.
During the process of the afternoon he shared his story with Jenny and asked if she could look into his case file as he had no idea why he had been arrested. When Jenny followed up Agabus file at the court she found he had been accused of a crime that had taken place on the day before palm Sunday. When she returned to the prison she was able to pin point exactly where Agabus had been on that special weekend – with his uncle in another village.
When Agabus case was brought to court he was able to represent himself and provide an alibi now that he knew where he was on the date he had been accused. The case was dismissed.
Despite spending three months in prison for a crime he didn’t commit Agabus is now back at school. Agabus’ mother who met Jenny a few weeks later explained how she had stopped eating and cried herself to sleep for weeks during Agabus arrest. She had not known what to do to help him and had simply prayed that somehow God would open a door for him to be released.
Please pray for the work of our CLEAR partner, the Ugandan Christian Lawyers' Fraternity, which aims to share God’s love and heart for justice by empowering people through legal education.