Opening pathways to justice for marginalized + individuals in West Africa
Marginalized people face some of the harshest forms of exclusion and discrimination in Africa, ranging from an inability to access basic services like housing and healthcare, to violence, based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics. In many countries, these marginalized people are subjected to the over-zealous application of restrictive laws and a growing number of prohibitions, and arbitrary arrests and detention. They face additional obstacles to accessing justice with many lawyers refusing to defend their cases, which reflects broader intolerance in society.
In response to these challenges, over the past ten years Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights has experimented with a paralegal program in West Africa to assist marginalized individuals to confront human rights violations. This project will examine the experiences of the paralegal support and new efforts to replicate at three levels: the conditions that enable, or constrain, the safe provision of paralegal services in contexts where justice systems drive injustice for marginalized peoples; the impacts of paralegals on the lived experiences of marginalized individuals, like their ability to report abuse and seek justice, or on reducing rights violations and impunity for them; and how to build constructive engagement with policymakers to improve projects for marginalized individuals. The findings are expected to contribute to improving efforts to promote human rights in West Africa, identify recommendations to replicate similar paralegal programs, and open spaces of policy engagement to address gaps, especially in the justice system, that are contributing to rights violations of marginalized individuals. This is part of a global cohort of projects on Closing the justice gap - A Legal Empowerment Research and Learning Agenda.