#BeyondBilling – promoting pro bono in the SADC region

October 1st, 2018
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On 15 August, the Southern African Development Community Lawyers’ Association (SADC LA) held a Pro Bono Forum in Maputo, Mozambique. The Forum was attended by lawyers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and legal aid officials from across the SADC region. The objectives of the Forum were to launch the SADC Pro Bono Lawyers’ Network (SADC PLaN) and spread awareness through the #BeyondBilling campaign. The Forum had both regional and international presenters, which covered issues such as defining pro bono, pro bono needs in the SADC, challenges and opportunities and practical examples of pro bono throughout the region.

The Forum encouraged lawyers to be creative and strategic in how they undertake pro bono and move beyond the traditional ideas of litigation. The Forum also encouraged lawyers to use their transactional skills, such as negotiation in pro bono issues and treat human rights issues as they would commercialise transactions. The issue was raised that lawyers may want to litigate certain pro bono cases as it could bring them publicity. A further issue was that lawyers tend to take on ‘safe cases’ and that they are encouraged to take on, for example, discrimination and civil claim damages for sexual violence cases. The Forum also identified key areas that require pro bono services in the SADC region, especially sexual violence, violation of women’s rights and political and electoral violence cases. Emphasis was placed on the need to train lawyers on human rights and constitutional law as there is currently a general lack of knowledge, especially on how to use international and regional human rights bodies. At the Forum, it was clearly demonstrated that throughout the SADC it is the law societies and Bar associations that are driving and defining the scope of pro bono. As a result, law societies and Bar associations will play an integral part in the SADC PLaN. The Forum also encouraged non-practicing attorneys to undertake pro bono and that issues of liability may be addressed by clients signing disclaimer forms.

Specific examples of pro bono were also discussed. The organisation, China Impact Watch, is currently undertaking legal work on behalf of communities in Africa who have experienced human rights violations by Chinese owned companies. Violations include pollution, expropriation of land without compensation and loss of access to safe drinking water. The organisation does research on human rights violations committed by Chinese owned companies and acts as amicus curiae in human rights cases. The Bar Association of Mozambique has also taken on an active role in promoting the human rights of communities, as more natural resources are discovered in Mozambique. They have, to date, instituted ten cases against the government and companies who have committed human rights violations, such as expropriation of land and houses without compensation. The intention is that during the litigation proceedings against the government, the details of contracts for natural resources such as oil and gas will be made public. To date, the details and values of these contracts have been kept secret and have not benefitted communities.

The Forum also held an interactive Dragons’ Den style session whereby representatives of NGOs could pitch their pro bono needs to lawyers. This session highlighted that NGOs need to think beyond litigation to address issues, such as, creating stronger and larger organisations to lobby for change. Furthermore, that those issues – such as the right of women to inherit land in Zimbabwe – will require strategic litigation, and that NGOs need to remain resilient as litigation takes time and will also require further advocacy, such as campaigning.

The SADC PLaN has formed a committee that will be responsible for creating the terms of reference for the Network. The SADC LA will also create a database of lawyers and NGOs who can offer and who need pro bono services. The SADC LA will also promote pro bono in the region by running the #BeyondBilling campaign, which will include advocacy to encourage pro bono throughout the SADC and training on different pro bono strategies.

For more information on how to get involved in this project contact Stanley Nyamanhindi, the SADC LA Chief Executive Officer at stanely@sadcla.org

Southern African Development Community Lawyers’ Association

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (Oct) DR 8.

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