Center for the Promotion of Human Rights and Development in Africa

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Access to Justice

Where there is a real or perceived breakdown of justice, and where political, legal, economic, and institutional biases and barriers marginalize segments of the population, the struggle for equal access to justice can be complex and dangerous. Even in countries that have passed legislation aimed at strengthening the rights of vulnerable or disadvantaged groups—as in Morocco, with the adoption of landmark women’s rights reforms to the family code, or in Nepal, where discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or tribe is prohibited—procedural and institutional obstacles can seem insurmountable to people without significant financial resources or knowledge of the legal system. 

For this reason, access to justice—as defined by the United Nations Development Program and understood and accepted within the international human rights community—means both that laws and remedies must be just, equitable, and sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalized, and also that the difficulties that vulnerable populations have in understanding and asserting their legal rights before the institutions set up to administer the law are addressed. 

CPHDA’s Access to Justice program focuses on the latter. We build our local partners’ capacities to help the poor and marginalized access legal mechanisms and improve the functioning of those mechanisms in a way that increases faith in the justice system, While also expanding opportunities for vulnerable groups to engage with it. We believe that equal access to justice, whether through the courts or customary legal mechanisms, creates a crucial precondition for societies working to achieve broad-based prosperity and security under the rule of law. It serves as a social safety valve, fostering a structured and peaceful context in which people are able to understand and assert their legal rights. 

CPHDA supports access to justice programs in most of our country offices, and many of those programs prioritize access to justice for women, marginalized racial and ethnic communities, and the poor. The activities detailed here all demonstrate unique approaches to accessing justice and highlight the broad-based social integration components of our efforts to build partners’ capacities to provide legal and paralegal services, affect justice-system mechanisms, promote legislative and systems reform, and conduct legal education programs around the world. 

 

Page Natural Resources and Human Rights

Poverty—both a cause and a product of human rights  violations—is probably the gravest human rights challenge in the world. More than one billion people live below the extreme poverty line of one dollar per day, and the gap between rich and poor is only increasing.  For decades, Africa—resource-rich but also home to many of the world’s poorest people—has seen state and non-state actors compete for its broad range of natural resources. The existence of oil, timber, and other natural resources across the continent has generated expectations among local communities that exploitation will propel them out of poverty. 

Widespread corruption and lack of transparency in how funds are generated and spent have helped ensure that any wealth created by natural resource exploitation benefits a select few. Instead of enjoying new jobs and improving living conditions, communities living in and around extractive industry projects are facing a host of human rights challenges in violation of national law, international norms, and corporate accountability standards. 

Land used by locals to meet their basic need for food is expropriated without       adequate compensation or government oversight. Limited water supplies are cut off for the exclusive use of industry or polluted to such a point that they can no longer be used as drinking water or for fishing.  In some places, the disposal of toxic waste is carried out in ways that jeopardize the health and safety of surrounding           communities. Environmental legislation is often weak and where it does exist, it is rarely enforced. In many communities, youth have quit school to work in mines, putting their emotional and physical health at grave risk. Without significant training in or exposure to human rights-based advocacy, affected communities have little recourse to assert their rights.