News / Africa

'Barefoot' Lawyers Teach Ugandans Their Rights

Gerald Abila, founder of Barefoot Law, answers Ugandans’ legal questions by SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, May 27, 2014. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
Gerald Abila, founder of Barefoot Law, answers Ugandans’ legal questions by SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, May 27, 2014. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
Uganda has made headlines recently for controversial new legislation, but most Ugandans have little understanding of the laws and no access to legal counsel.

To solve this problem, a Ugandan lawyer founded an organization called Barefoot Law that uses social media and other technology to help people cut through the haze of misinformation surrounding the laws that govern them.

Before he began law school, Gerald Abila said he had never actually seen a copy of his country’s constitution. He knew he was not alone.

“I travel a lot, and a lot of people in areas I travel to were like me before I started studying the law... the level of legal ignorance. And access to legal services is too low,” he said.

While ignorance of the law is no defense, Abila said given the level of legal access in Uganda, though, it’s no wonder people know so little about it.

“Ninety-seven percent of lawyers in Uganda are within the capital," he said. "So 97 percent of lawyers serve a population of 2 million people, and the remaining three percent is left to serve a population of around 36 million. So how do you overcome such challenges using technology?”

Abila’s decided Barefoot Law, which he founded two years ago, would be the answer.

Barefoot’s team of volunteer lawyers uses Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Skype calls and a 24-hour call-in service to answer any legal questions Ugandans have, and also to guide them through their cases. Everything they offer is free.

This service has become especially pressing lately as Uganda has passed a raft of controversial legislation, including a harsh new anti-homosexuality law, an anti-pornography law and a bill criminalizing the intentional transmission of HIV.

All that most people know of these laws is what they hear on the radio, said Abila, and the journalists often get it wrong.

When the anti-pornography bill was signed, he said, most media reported that miniskirts were banned, and people started taking the law into their own hands.

“There were instances of stripping women, and the women were fearing to then go and report to the police because they thought it was an offense to wear a miniskirt.  So we wrote a post, and we advised the ladies if you can identify anyone that has done that to you, then they could be charged with indecent assault and a number of offenses,” said Abila.

He said the post was viewed 18,000 times by the end of the day.

One Barefoot client, Latim Fassie, had spent all his money fighting for workers’ compensation after a motorbike accident left him hospitalized for months. He said lawyers at Barefoot Law were the only ones who would tell him his rights and explain to him how to proceed when he couldn't find proper representation.

In Uganda, he said it's a rare thing, indeed, to get this kind of help at no charge.

“They are lawyers that even will call you at their own cost, give you technical advice, call you to their offices, share with you, even share with you breakfast on the table while you discuss papers,” said Fassie.

The gratitude they they are shown for their work is genuine, according to Abila. After helping two young people who had been kicked off their mother’s land, Abila said the Barefoot office received an unexpected gift.

“The issue was resolved, and the gentleman sent us shoes, some local shoes, and told us, ‘I hope you guys can now start wearing shoes and don’t be barefoot anymore’,” noted Abila.

Those shoes, made of truck tires and string, are still hanging on the wall above his desk, a reminder of how far they still have to go.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid