(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
I spent this past week in Butare.
At the beginning of the week, Raymond, one of the core lawyers with IPHR, and I traveled to the tribunal in Butare in order to offer free legal assistance to minors being tried for a crime (okay, Raymond was offering legal assistance; I was there to observe and learn).
Unfortunately, the process for minors being tried will not begin until July 1st. So, we will return then for work.
Nevertheless, the day was still a great opportunity to tour Butare’s tribunal and police station in order to get a sense of where things happen. So, that’s exactly what we did. And during our tour I was able to speak with Raymond and get a good understanding of how his work is organized.
Raymond volunteers his legal services to minors (those under 21 years of age) who are accused of committing crimes. In this instance, IPHR works in collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry of Justice. Specifically, the Ministry of Justice organizes where lawyers will serve pro-bono. Having been assigned to serve the city of Butare, IPHR’s Raymond usually visits Butare once every 2 weeks and, on average, defends 10-12 minors per month.
The process works like this: a minor is accused of committing a crime, the minor is arrested, and the minor is detained in the police station. From here, the minor is eventually brought to a prosecutor’s office where he is investigated and encouraged to admit to any crime he/she has committed.
This is where lawyers, such as IPHR’s Raymond, steps in.
Lawyers like Raymond offer much needed support to minors who are in an intimidating position and do not yet have the savoir-faire necessary to know how to handle the situation.
Imagine: you are 11 years old and you have just been accused of a crime. The police arrive at your home, pull you away from your family and friends, and bring you to the police station all alone. After an indefinite amount of time in the detention center, you are put before a prosecutor who presents all the evidence against you and tells you that, if you confess, your sentence will be shorter.
What would you do? Would you not feel helpless and afraid? Would you not strongly consider confessing to the crime you are accused of, just because it seems like the best/quickest way out?
Lawyers like Raymond and others at IPHR provide minors with the emotional and legal support necessary to ensure that they are fairly tried and that they don’t commit themselves to further injustice. These lawyers offer legal advice to the minors when they are in the detention center, support the minors when they are brought before the prosecutor, and defend the minors in court.
During our stroll through the streets of Butare, Raymond said that his favorite part about this work is when the minors are justly set free. “They are so happy!” he says. And, even though they do not have much money, they often offer Raymond a piece of bubblegum as a ‘thank you’ for being there.
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