November 30, 2011

Development with ASF: also internally


Brussels, 30 November 2011 – Avocats Sans Frontières employs around 135 people at its headquarters and regional offices, with the great majority being locally hired staff. Although certain posts, such as the Head of Mission, are attributed to people who are not connected to the country of intervention – in order to guarantee their independence in relation to the local political context and to the funding agencies –, the majority are reserved for people from the resident country where knowledge  of the local context is invaluable.

Sabrina Lambé, in charge of Human Resources at ASF Headquarters: “It is obvious to us. The idea of development doesn’t only apply to actions taken in the region, but equally to those internally, within our teams: We place a lot of importance on training and the continued strengthening of the abilities of our local personnel, which they will profit from throughout their career.”

At the beginning of Fall, 2011, two of our colleagues decided to leave the association: Ingrid Kanyamuneza (Legal Aid Coordinator, Burundi) and Ben Kabagambe (Lawyer for the Access to Justice Project, Rwanda), one to join the team of the European Commission in Kinshasa and the other to spend more time with his family in Burundi. Bad news? In one sense, yes, when ASF loses two competent and motivated teammates; but they leave strengthened by their ASF experience and more convinced than ever of the relevance of the association’s actions. The opportunity to pay tribute to them through an interview presents itself…

What have you learned at ASF?

Ingrid: When I arrived in 2005, I had very little knowledge of project management and relations between nongovernmental organisations and funding agencies. The past six years at ASF has permitted me to understand the role of each actor within the justice sector (Minister, the Bar, nongovernmental organisations for the defence of human rights) and the top-priority actions that need to be taken to improve access to justice for the Burundianpopulation. 

Ben: Even if I must leave the Mission to Rwanda today, I will be forever grateful for what I have gained during my time employed there and my time as a defender of human rights. Working at ASF has taught me that with willpower, justice can become a reality for everyone, and not only for certain privileged classes. I have discovered the happiness that comes from helping others.

Some people say that the right and access to justice is a luxury, that populations first need schools, and hospitals…

Ingrid: For me, the right to access to justice is a fundamental right like no other, in the sense that it guarantees all other rights. The right to a good education or the right to healthcare would only be slogans if they could be infringed without impunity. Justice is a vital need insomuch as it is the only guarantee, for each individual, that they will have a remedy for all prejudice and injustice suffered. Peace, security of the person and of goods – to say nothing about development – are impossible without justice. 

Ben: How does one acquire water, schools and hospitals if one doesn’t know what his rights are?  Justice is a part of our daily lives and because our lives and our liberty are dependent upon the quality of law. To put justice in the background, is to put our lives and security in danger – and what is worst than to be deprived of liberty?

What is the most striking memory that you take with you from your time at ASF?

Ingrid: I am particularly touched by the cases of violations of human rights committed on vulnerable populations by the authorities who were supposed to protect them. But I am delighted that, thanks to the intervention of ASF, with the collaboration of Burundian lawyers, some of these cases have been effectively and quickly dealt with by the courts and the victims’ rights re-established.

Ben:  The first involves a young 17-year-old boy condemned to prison without any evidence. After 10 years of detention, he filed an appeal and ASF provided him with a lawyer, which permitted his acquittal. By the lack of assistance, a young boy unjustly lost 10 years of his life!  The other memory concerns a man that my colleague, Clotilde, came across in Rilima prison: He had been acquitted of murder by the High Court, but the director of the prison refused to set him free following a mistake in his identity. This man had to spend 4 extra months in prison. Without our intervention, he would never have been set free.

How do you see the evolution of the justice sector in your respective countries? What is the role of ASF?

Ingrid: Despite the stated improvements, a number of problems continue to handicap the functioning of the Burundian justice system: A lack of independence of the magistrature, poor management of the magistrates’ careers, some incompetence, corruption, etc. For political reasons, a number of violations committed by the authorities remain unpunished. One deals with a limitation of individual liberties and attacks directed against the defenders of human rights.  It is not at all reassuring that a country calls itself democratic. ASF must follow the contextual evolution of the country and adapt its interventions, still intensifying the strengthening of the abilities of the national actors in order to assure the durability of its efforts undertaken so far.

Ben:  The Rwandan judicial system contains some important gaps – in particular, ambiguous laws – but there is also a positive side: regular training of judges, the creation of an office for the protection of victims, centres for access to justice. ASF has clearly made the difference during these years; among others, the training of legal actors regarding the rights of minors, youth justice and the right to a defence.  But there is still a tremendous amount of work and the local nongovernmental organisations lack funding.  In my opinion, it is necessary to continue our actions at the risk of leaving behind many “judicial orphans.”


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