(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
This past Thursday (7 June), we plunged head-first into work.
In the morning, I met with Raymond and Paulin, the Secretary General and Vice President (respectively) of IPHR. Immediately after saying our “hellos”, Paulin and I rushed off to the Office of Immigration to apply for the appropriate internship visa. Once all of the necessary documents were handed over to the Office of Immigration, Paulin and I took a taxi (a van that holds about 30 people and travels to and from established points; it’s much like an above-ground metro with a more flexible schedule) to one of the main bus stations located in Nyabugogo, Kigali. Here, I bought a ticket to Butare, hopped on the bus, waved goodbye to Paulin, and headed 2 hours and 15 minutes southwest to meet Yves.
Once I arrived in Butare, Yves and I said our “hellos” and walked straight to the Legal Aid Clinic.
The Legal Aid Clinic is a highly beneficial and much needed service in Butare. Founded by a member of the National University of Rwanda’s (NUR) Faculty of Law, Felicité Karomba, this Legal Aid Clinic provides Rwandans with free access to legal services. Many Rwandans travel for days to receive these free services – services that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
When we arrived at the Legal Aid Clinic, located just behind NUR’s Faculty of Law department, the site that greeted me was a green, open field speckled with about 30 people sitting around – some waiting patiently under trees and others propped in desks, engaged in deep discussion.
This Legal Aid Clinic, led by NUR and assisted by IPHR, is held in this same spot every Thursday, beginning at 2:00pm and ending whenever the last person is tended to – which may be well into the night. During the clinic, clients (i.e. – those who have traveled near and far to receive these legal services) present their concerns and are given free legal assistance by NUR 3rd and 4th year law students under the supervision of NUR’s Faculty of Law. Depending on the situation, clients may be referred to mediation, may receive physical legal representation in court or, if it is assessed that physical legal representation is not necessary, may receive aumwanzuro w’urukiko – a written submission of legal representation for the court (if the umwanzuro w’urukiko is not successful, the clinic will provide a lawyer to appeal the case in-person). When the procedure does not involve the court, the process usually takes a total of 10-15 days. During this time period, legal volunteers initiate the procedure, visit the ground (if necessary), hear all sides of the case, and advise accordingly. If the case must be presented before court, the procedure can take much longer since it is now at the mercy of the court’s schedule; for example, one case that was submitted on 7 June 2012 has received a court date for September 2012.
As a partner of Butare’s Legal Aid Clinic, IPHR provides pro bono lawyers for in-court representation as well as provides specialized training in areas such as family law, succession, and land law.
Judging by the large turnout every Thursday, this program is both highly valued and needed by the Rwandan community. This clinic is the only way Rwandans – many of whom are either poor, elderly, or are single mothers – can gain access to the justice system. However, one cannot forget the many other poor, elderly, vulnerable members of society who do not have the resources or the physical capability to travel to Butare’s Legal Aid Clinic. Remembering this, IPHR hopes to establish a Mobile Legal Aid Clinic in the near future that will travel all over Rwanda, serving those who would otherwise be neglected. I will write more on this later.
For now, I’ll leave you with two things: (1) photos of the Legal Aid Clinic and (2) info about what’s next. For the photos, see below; these photos should give a good idea of how things work at the clinic. And as far as what’s next: this coming Monday (12 June) I’m headed back to Butare to observe how IPHR assists children with law assistance and legal representation. More to come on this.
Turongera (until next time)!
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