Namati’s blog highlights the perspectives and ongoing work of leading practitioners and scholars in the field of legal empowerment. Legal empowerment explores ways of putting law and government into people’s hands – an ambition underpinning efforts to advance justice throughout the world, whether under the banner of human rights, international development, access to justice, governance and accountability, or citizen’s participation.
By Alison Rabe
Land ownership in Sierra Leone’s rural area is complicated. Rural land is owned by extended families that are attached to particular chiefdoms. All land is “vested” in the Chiefdom Council on behalf of community . The paramount chief (PC) is particularly important. He is leader of the chiefdom, head of the chiefdom council and “custodian of the land”. No significant decisions regarding land can be made without his or the council’s approval. In other words, even though landowners in communities have cultivated their land for centuries, ultimate determinations regarding their land are made at the behest of traditional authority.
Sierra Leone has a dualist legal system that recognizes both written statutes and custom. In the countryside, decisions on customary matters are often made by the paramount chief, whose word is considered final. By law, customary systems must comply with formal rules and PCs must consider principles of equity, natural justice, and good conscience in making their decisions. But it remains a challenge to ensure that paramount chiefs and their councils comply with statues.
With the recent influx of investors, customary law has created additional problems for local landowners and land users. In practice, paramount chiefs are the … More »
By Alison Rabe, Achmed Dean Sesay, and Hassan Sesay
Sierra Leone has recently experienced a massive influx of foreign direct investment in the form of agriculture and mining concessions. Rural communities historically dependent on subsistence or small-scale commercial agriculture are interfacing with increasing numbers of powerful actors that want their land.
This problem was demonstrated in Mange Section in the Marampa chiefdom of Portloko District, where an investor recently attempted to lease all of the communities’ bolilands, or arable land, for industrial rice production.
Namati learned of Mange’s issue when our Legal Empowerment Advocates, Achmed Dean Sesay and Hassan Sesay, were called into the community to meet with concerned elders. Achmed and Hassan learned that an investor, Golden Mills, had surveyed Mange’s land, accompanied by three of the community’s land-users, without landowners’ permission. Under the customary land tenure system that governs rural areas in Sierra Leone, land is owned by families. Land users pay the land-owning families a ‘fee’ each year to farm some of their land. Money does not always change hands – the ‘fee’ is often paid in the form of produce or animals, depending on what the land is being used for. In Mange, the land users … More »
Africa Community Land and Natural Resources Protection Symposium
From November 5 to 7, 2013, Namati and the South African NGO Natural Justice, which supports communities to participate in governance over their local environments, convened the Africa Community Land and Natural Resources Protection Symposium. The meeting was held at the !Khwa Ttu San Cultural Center outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Participants included more than 20 advocates from across Africa, chosen for their extraordinary efforts supporting communities to protect their lands and resources, who brought their frontline experience and expertise to discussions.
The objective of the symposium was to provide participants with opportunities to:
Share tools and strategies for empowered community land and natural resource management and protection
Support each other to confront local and national challenges to community claims on land and natural resources
Brainstorm new and innovative forms of legal empowerment
Build a cross-disciplinary community of practice to foster continued dialogue and learning
The symposium opened with an informal outdoor ceremony, during which participants shared prayers and songs they use regularly in the course of their fieldwork to open community meetings. This was followed by a session in which the full range of challenges, questions, and successful strategies that participants employ in … More »
In the western Indian state of Gujarat is the large and austerely beautiful district known as Kutch. It is an ecologically unique place, with shallow wetlands, salt flats, important grasslands, and the channel-cut Mundra Coast. Mundra is known for its rich biodiversity, with a combination of inter-tidal mudflats, mangroves, and natural creeks supporting a rich diversity of seaweed, corals, fish and an array of marine life.
The Mundra belt has always been considered to be extremely ecologically fragile and economically productive. This network of creeks, estuaries and mudflats are unique and very important because fishermen use these to land their boats to keep them safe from strong winds and currents. The creeks also form a natural drainage system that, if disturbed, can lead to flooding during monsoons. While the region supports the livelihoods of fishing villages near the sea, the inland areas have several pastoralist and farming communities who rely on the availability of sweet water and vast stretches of common lands. Many people also rely on the coast for their salt panning work.
“Companies don’t talk to people. They are not ready to listen to us. Many locals think they will get jobs in these companies, but they don’t. … More »
by Uli Parulian Sihombing
Indonesian institutions of higher learning generally recognize a set of three core principles known as ‘Tri Dharma’: education, research, and community service. According to Tri Dharma, a university must go beyond the traditional mandates of research and education to include community service in its vision and mission and emphasize practical applications in academic activities.
In Beyond Rule of Law Orthodoxy (2003), Stephen Golub writes that legal services and related development activities must take legal empowerment approaches into account in order to genuinely strengthen the ability of disadvantaged groups to control their own lives. In this context, institutions of higher legal education can also play a key role – by engaging in Clinical Legal Education, or CLE.
According to Tri Dharma, a university must go beyond the traditional mandates of research and education to include community service in its vision and mission, and emphasize practical applications in academic activities.
Clinical Legal Education is a legal empowerment approach with three primary objectives: 1) to increase access to justice for underrepresented groups; 2) to develop a legal education system focused on essential skills, knowledge, and values for up-and-coming lawyers; and 3) to support high standards of quality in the … More »