December 28, 2015

Paralegal Helps His Community Members Get Justice

Jean Claude Matongo is a 58 year-old paralegal who recently began a new journey serving his community in the Second District of Bangui, Central African Republic. “When one spoke of violence,” he says, “to me, it meant an action that was purely physical.” But not anymore. In July, Matongo participated in an ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) training to become a community-based paralegal. “After my recruitment as a paralegal, [ABA ROLI] trained me and educated me about responding to cases linked to gender-based violence,” he says.


In July and October, ABA ROLI trained a total of 22 paralegals from three communities—Bangui, Bimbo and Bouar—to mediate conflict and, when appropriate, refer community members to ABA ROLI legal aid clinics to get legal, psychological and medical services. 


And now, Matongo is one of the 22 paralegals who do just that. As their country strives to return to normalcy following months of inter-communal conflict, these paralegals support their community members in resolving a range of social and legal problems. Matongo says that at first he was “ill-equipped to respond to situations linked to gender-based violence.” ABA ROLI trainings have helped to change that.

In July and October, ABA ROLI trained a total of 22 paralegals from three communities—Bangui, Bimbo and Bouar—to mediate conflict and, when appropriate, refer community members to ABA ROLI legal aid clinics to get legal, psychological and medical services. The trainings cover local laws, fundamental human rights, legal remedies and legal aid services available for citizens. They also address the roles of paralegals, the collection and management of sensitive information, and mediation and negotiation strategies, preparing the participants to defend human rights. Working in collaboration with and under the mentorship of lawyers in ABA ROLI’s three legal clinics, the paralegals defend citizens’ rights, including the rights of women who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Deployed in the three communities, the paralegals have since referred 106 individuals to ABA ROLI clinics for legal aid. Another 139 people have also received psychological support. Community members are usually either unaware of available legal remedies to human-rights violations or don’t seek justice fearing retaliation. The paralegals educate their community members and serve as the link between citizens and the justice system.

For one young woman, Matongo was that link she was missing. Soon after he took the ABA ROLI paralegal training, Matongo was approached by the woman and her family. A man had impregnated her but he wouldn’t support her during her pregnancy. Matongo met with the woman and her family, learning more about the situation, educating the family about gender-based violence and services available to victims. Matongo learned that the woman wanted to pursue legal options and referred her to the ABA ROLI legal clinic in Bangui.

With help from a legal clinic attorney, the woman took her case to court, where the man who impregnated her was found liable and ordered to help cover her medical bills. Matongo says that he is happy he could help. “[She] was able to seek justice,” says Matongo, “and has received compensation through legal action.”

To learn more about our work in the Central African Republic, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.