Intern Update, 7/17/12 (Kirk Schweitzer)

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Kirk Schweitzer, 3L

Peace and Reconciliation Project
Rule of Law Development

This past week, Greg Lush and I were able to assist at the Justice Center which is a branch of the local court in Lira and works with indigent clients who can’t afford an attorney.  The Justice Center is comparable to the work of a public defender in the U.S.  It has been a great experience to aid in this part of the Ugandan legal system. 

Last Friday, we went into “the field” and helped by drafting an agreement between two parties who had a land dispute.  After walking around the farm and demarcating the boundaries by planting trees, the parties signed the agreement amicably and were able to avoid the expense of a suit in court.  Much of the case files that Greg and I have had the opportunity to review have been land disputes.  Most land is owned customarily and inherited through the family, with very little documentation.  This makes land disputes very tough to settle when there is no title, but just witnesses’ statements to rely on. 

There are many similarities between the Ugandan legal system and the U.S. legal system. However, there are also some very significant differences.  Last weekend we went to a clan dispute deep in the village where they were resolving a murder between them outside of court.  Of course, in the U.S. the state would handle capital crimes such as murder.  However, in Uganda, while the state does handle the capital crimes, many crimes are resolved on a clan level without reaching the state prosecution office.  In this case, as payment one clan gave the other clan seven cows.  As a result, the two clans were able to continue peacefully living with each other and avoid a drawn out suit in court which would undoubtedly lead to broken relationships. 

It has been encouraging to see the emphasis on mediation.  Most of the mediation sessions that Greg and I have been a part of are typically on the site, deep in a village, far from a paved road, and sitting under a mango tree.  Transportation is extremely difficult due to the lack of infrastructure and the clients that the Justice Center deals with are poor to begin with.  So the attorneys often travel to the suit land or to the disputing parties in order to negotiate an agreement.

This experience in Uganda has been incredible thus far.  Greg and I are just over half way done here.  I look forward to the doors God will open in the remainder of our time here in Uganda.  

          - Kirk Schweitzer, 7/17/12

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