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The Need

In Africa it is said that justice is open to all – and so is the Intercontinental Hotel. The hard reality is that most Africans do not know their legal rights and lack the means to obtain advice and representation. Injustice in the justice system is the norm.

CLEAR International is an interdenominational charity that supports access to justice projects in the developing world, particularly in Africa. CLEAR seeks to represent vulnerable and marginalised communities, by informing them of their basic legal rights and offering advice and representation to those who have no means to pay for it.  In carefully selected cases, CLEAR has sought to highlight injustices through public interest litigation and advocacy. CLEAR works with local lawyers who run and manage each local CLEAR project, and it specialises in criminal justice, public law and family law. Among those the lawyers represent street children who are arbitrarily arrested by the police, accused people who have waited for up to 10 years for trial and widows who have been forced off their land and made destitute by their dead husband’s family.

 

A Tale of Two Cities

Jacqueline, a Samburu lady whose youngest daughter died of malaria in infancy was on remand for 3 years - not in itself unusual in Kenya. The traditions of the Sumburu did not allow her to talk of the death, nor bury the child, left beneath a tree for the animals to dispose of. Unfortunately, this tradition prevented her mounting any defence when she was charged with infanticide, despite a rather inadequate post mortem which simply concluded, "There is no evidence of strangulation."

Jacqueline's case eventually came to the attention of CLEAR, who took the 8 hour, mostly off road bone shaking journey to Mararal on June 10th 2004 to hear her story.

On July 12th, with the help of a volunteer Christian advocate, after 3 years on remand, Jacqueline was released, her case dismissed, no case to answer. Her other daughter is 3 years older than when she last saw her, but the Pastor into whose care CLEAR staff have entrusted her rehabilitation, has promised to ensure she is reunited with her.

Imagine if Sally Clark's wrongful conviction in the UK had been preceded by 3 years on remand in overcrowded prison conditions totally lacking in hygiene, where not even toilet roll or soap are provided and where 50% of inmates are HIV/Aids infected.

 

"A Death Sentence – Prison Conditions in Kenya." Kenya Human Rights Commission, 1996

 The recently elected government of President Kibaki in Kenya has admitted that almost 90% of those currently incarcerated in his country’s prisons should not be there. Lawyers within the CLEAR project know from their work with those on remand the reason they are imprisoned in the first instance: They are there because they are poor. Too poor to buy their way out of trouble, too poor to raise bail for relatively minor offences and too poor to afford the legal assistance that would prevent them becoming lost for years in a slow and crumbling system of justice.

With more than 56% of Kenyans living below the poverty line, most people are too poor to afford legal fees and are required to conduct their own cases, typically with very little understanding of the legal process. Among ordinary remand prisoners, approximately 96% handle their own cases, leaving only 4% represented by lawyers. The death sentence is mandatory under the Penal Code for crimes including treason, murder and robbery with violence.

Cases of robbery with violence are heard by magistrates courts where there is no legal aid and limited rights of disclosure and as a result many defendants are sentenced to death without any legal representation. CLEAR research and public interest litigation is in the process pf challenging this particular aspect of injustice in the Appellate Courts. It has already secured ID cards for street children, who would otherwise have been denied education and employment, both of which require official ID to secure entitlement. To see the full extent of the needs and the CLEAR response, go to CLEAR Brief.

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