From April 19 to 20, 2023, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) conducted a Training of Legal CSOs on the Role of Paralegals in Advancing Human Rights in Johannesburg, South Africa under the auspices of the Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) Program. The ARISA Program is a five-year initiative of ABA ROLI, Freedom House, Internews and PACT. ABA ROLI is responsible for the ARISA Program’s Intermediate Result Number two, on “Strengthen[ing] the capacity of regional and local civil society actors to seek redress of rights violations.” In line with this objective, ABA ROLI convened a training for Southern African legal civil society organizations (CSOs) litigating cases within ARISA’s thematic areas, namely women’s customary land rights; the rights of Indigenous Peoples; the rights of human rights defenders’; and media freedoms and digital rights; with a view to capacitating them with the requisite skills to effectively engage with or deploy paralegals to meet the access to justice needs of their beneficiaries.
The overall objective of the training was to equip identified legal CSOs with the skills and knowledge to effectively engage with and deploy paralegals to advance human rights in Southern Africa through litigation; and was geared towards seventeen participants from the following seven organizations: Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia; Federation of Women Lawyers, Lesotho; Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust, Eswatini; Associação Moçambicana dos Advogados Cristãos (Mozambican Association of Christian Lawyers), Mozambique; Associação Mãos Livres (Free Hands Association), Angola; Natural Justice, South Africa; and Seinoli Legal Centre, Lesotho. Since the launch of the ARISA Program in 2018, ABA ROLI has been working with these legal CSOs to build their capacity to seek redress of human rights violations through training, sub granting, mentorship and provision of technical legal support.
The training was facilitated by two ABA ROLI staff members, Dr. Makanatsa Makonese, ARISA Deputy Chief of Party, and Ms. Faith Munyati, ARISA staff attorney; and two guest trainers. The first guest trainer, Willem Odendaal, is a human rights lawyer and indigenous peoples’ rights activist based in Namibia who reflected on his experiences working on indigenous peoples’ rights issues with paralegals. To promote South-South cooperation, ARISA also invited Professor Marlon Manuel from the Philippines, a senior advisor with the Namati Legal Empowerment Network. Professor Manuel shared on the experiences and lessons learnt from his region which the participants could use to advocate for the formal recognition of paralegals in Southern Africa, particularly in relation to promoting land rights. He also presented on key considerations and steps to be taken when organizations are establishing paralegal programs.