Legality and Localism

By Sensibaugh, Heather | Harvard International Review, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Legality and Localism


Sensibaugh, Heather, Harvard International Review


The international community would be wise to support Mr. Carter's call ("Reconstructing the Rule of Law: Post-Conflict Liberia," Fall 2008) for an international endorsement of community-based structures that promote access to justice.

Having witnessed local "paralegals" hard at work expanding access to justice for rural Sierra Leoneans in the northern part of the country, there is one aspect of the program that Mr. Carter under-emphasizes. That is, apart from the change these individuals are able to make in the lives of those suffering injustice, these paralegals are model citizens who give hope to younger generations and members of the community who themselves are not suffering in the same way as the clients being helped.

The cadre of Timap for Justice paralegals for whom I worked are among the most civic-minded people I have ever met. As such, they are examples even to community elders and chiefs of what the people and the country need in order to build a sustainable peace based on democratic values. Somehow, those who are called to be paralegals manage to put their clients, their community, and--eventually, one hopes--their country first. On a twenty-six mile motorcycle trip during the rainy season, one such paralegal, Ibrahim B. Kamara, decided at the end of a long day to see yet one more prospective client, even though the consultation would mean traveling in the dark through water on roads riddled with potholes. On another occasion I observed Mr. Kamara assert his identity as a Sierra Leonean rather than a member of a particular tribe, which would have been the expected response. As special as he may be, there are many others like him.

Local solutions to justice problems in post-conflict countries are more compatible with international human rights principles than many expect. In Sierra Leone, as in Liberia, witchcraft and sassywood--a lethal potion made from tree bark which is used as a sort of mystical "judge"--are a serious justice problem. …

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