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By Shadrak Kyobe, Founder/Exec.Director, EACO Uganda. July 2014.

“My husband passed away in 1980, followed by my two daughters and my son. Now one of my neighbours wants to take away my land because I am poor. Shadrak help me so that this land comes back to me.“

A widow from Banga, Mptata sub-county in Mukono, with limited and insecure land rights.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the poor to overcome poverty without help.

For poor families, a house and a small patch of land are often their only source of shelter, food and desperately needed income. But for many people in poverty, particularly widowed women and orphaned children, even this fragile foundation is not safe.

Powerful relatives or neighbors often steal their meager property with violence or lies, and fear no consequences.

The majority of individuals and communities in Mukono are vulnerable, socially excluded and unable to enjoy and effectively claim their rights by virtue of their circumstances, sex or age among other factors: religious, cultural, political and socio- economic e.g. poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and ignorance.

Other communities are disadvantaged and marginalized by virtue of their location and voicelessness e.g. minority tribes and those in rural settings and hard-to-reach areas.

Complex Procedures Reduce Access to Justice - Particularly for Women

In the Participatory Poverty Assessment on Safety, Security, and Access to Justice, conducted by the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) in 2002, poverty was reported to severely constrain safety, security, and access to justice, particularly for women.

The poor reported that expensive, cumbersome and complex procedures severely reduced their use of formal justice systems. Constraints highlighted by the poor included lack of access to legal services, gender based obstacles and inadequate legal awareness among others. As a consequence of poverty, disempowerment severely constrains access to justice for the poor. On the other hand, failure to realise legal protection through justice delivery agencies results in disempowerment of the users.

The intersection between poverty and access to justice is therefore manifested in empowerment.

EACO is committed to reduce poverty and HIV/AIDS among the marginalized especially the women and children in Uganda through socio-economic empowerment, advocacy & information sharing.

The Human Rights Project

Over the years EACO has implemented Human Rights Project (HRP)s.

The potential long-term impact of this project is to help the most vulnerable and marginalized groups to be transformed from a state of hopelessness to a state of excellence, hence freeing them from exploitation and fully exhaust their potential.

Additionally, it promotes empowerment of rural community people in various areas affecting humanity.

Legal Aid Services Needed

EACO desires to address the need for legal services, which would empower its beneficiaries. The following points illustrate the great potential legal services can have:

  1. We want legal aid services to be addressed and the concerns of the poor and vulnerable to be focused on and the challenges arising from lack of legal aid.
  2. Legal aid has the potential not only to enable these vulnerable groups to resolve their disputes at the family and community level, but also we want to enhance awareness of legal and human rights and empower them to claim their rights and advocate for social, policy, and legal change at the community and national levels.
  3. While legal aid interventions do not in principle transform the poverty situation of the recipients of services, they contribute to the empowerment of individuals and communities – a key ingredient of poverty reduction efforts.
  4. Despite the fact that these rights and freedoms are guaranteed under the constitution of Uganda, most vulnerable and marginalized groups are prevented from enjoying them because they are often discriminated against and unable to access the formal justice system due to a number of barriers including high/ prohibitive cost of legal and related services, illiteracy and ignorance of the law and the basic human rights, low confidence in the justice system, technicalities of processes, and psychological barriers created by gender inequality, cultural norms, religious beliefs, and social-economic settings (poverty).

So we need help to ensure that most vulnerable and marginalized groups are can excercise their right to access the formal justice system, regardless of their economic status.