When first elected, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema signaled the political will to strengthen democracy, openness to constitutional and legal reform, and willingness to acknowledge the important contributions of civil society organizations. It was against this backdrop that ABA ROLI implemented the Promoting Constitutional and Legislative Reform program with local Zambian partner, Chapter One Foundation, from August 2022 to September 2023. The program led activities to aid the emerging pro-democracy movement in Zambia by administering capacity building trainings, writing comparative legal analyses, and implementing mentorship programming. During the program's life, ABA ROLI trained over 100 lawyers and civil society organizations staff members in strategic litigation, research methodology and legal report writing, and legislative drafting. Analyses on the 2022 Public Gathering Bill, the Zambian Bill of Rights, Penal Code Amendment 2022, the prevalence of child marriage, and the effectiveness of anti-sexual and gender-based violence laws in Zambia were shared with local civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide argumentative support for those seeking to advocate for legal reform.
The capacity building trainings, which were attended by mostly young lawyers and CSO staff members, provided essential supplemental skills and tools to support their work in advocating for legal reform. The need for training on topics like research methodology and legal report writing was overwhelming. ABA ROLI and COF received 150 applications to attend the training but were only able to accommodate 50 attendees. After the first legislative drafting training, the Zambia Law Development Commission requested a private and personalized training for their commissioners and staff members. Additionally, at the request of the Mental Health Users Alliance and Disabilities Rights Watch, ABA ROLI added another strategic litigation training for non-lawyers to enhance their capacity to identify human rights and constitutional issues and engage in strategic litigation for human rights violations related to disability rights.
Significant highlights of the program resulted from the mentorship program for young lawyers facilitated by ABA ROLI and Chapter One Foundation through mentorship circles and one-on-one mentorship sessions. Former ABA President and ROLI Board Member James Silkenat provided in-person one-on-one mentorship to four mentees who attended the first legislative drafting training. Mr. Silkenat spent two to three hours with each mentee answering questions, suggesting opportunities, and discussing legislative issues around women’s rights, the environment, voting rights, free speech, and prison issues. One mentee shared, “Mr. Silkenat provided practical guidance and shared helpful tips from his experience. This assisted me in mapping out my career path and refine the vision and goals I have for my career.” Another ABA mentor, Jonathan Kaufman, Executive Director of Advocates for Community Alternatives, provided support to five mentees working on various strategic litigation cases. Mr. Kaufman supported one mentee in a mock trial to prepare for his case advocating for rights for people with disabilities in front of the Supreme Court. Another mentee of Mr. Kaufman said, “He went further to connect me to other institutions that do similar work in line with the cases I talked to him about, and they have also been in touch with me”.