In Somalia, citizen ‘Justice Promoters’ help the most vulnerable to access rights

December 11, 2023
EAJ Justice Promoters
EAJ Justice Promoter providing legal information to residents of the Tawakal IDP camp in Baidoa, Somalia, in July 2022. Credit: Somali Community Action Group

Justice is a fundamental human right. Without access to legal processes, representation or courts, we are vulnerable to abuse. For millions of marginalized people in Somalia today, accessing justice can seem impossible. More than two million people in Somalia are living in camps for internally displaced persons. Driven there by prolonged drought, hunger and violence, many are marginalized in intersectional ways because they are members of minority clans, women or are living with a disability. Though they may be within sight of cities like Mogadishu and Baidoa, access to legal protections such as via lawyers, judges or police is unimaginable.

This month, the global community marks 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At Pact, we are reflecting on how we work to ensure that the most vulnerable are able to access and exercise their basic human rights. Around the world, Pact supports communities to defend and expand their human rights, especially vulnerable communities. One example is the recently concluded Expanding Access to Justice program, or EAJ, implemented by Pact with our partner the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative.  EAJ has helped some of Somalia’s most marginalized citizens to restore their right to access justice. 

In 2020, the EAJ program tested a new approach that brings legal assistance to underserved communities. Unlike traditional legal assistance programming in which paralegals are sent into communities to work with people seeking justice, EAJ sought to train community members themselves to be able to provide legal assistance to other community members. 

In displaced communities where levels of trust are low, it may only be other members of the community who can talk with and guide victims. EAJ trained community members to become “Justice Promoters.” Justice Promoters educate others about their rights and help community members seeking justice to navigate Somalia’s three distinct justice systems: the traditional clan-based system called Xeer (pronounced hare), the Shari’ah-based system and the state’s formal justice system. EAJ Justice Promoters worked with individuals in their communities, held legal education discussions for groups and traveled door to door to bring awareness of rights to the most vulnerable.

EAJ Justice Promoters supported 2,899 cases over the course of the program, 64% of which were brought by women.

The Justice Promoters model met people where they were, helped them to understand and choose their optimal justice pathways and guided them if they decided to pursued their grievances with legal action. In 2022, when historic droughts and conflict drove up to 1 million more people into IDP camps, the number of EAJ Justice Promoters surged past 100 as program partners City University Legal Clinic, Mogadishu University Law Clinic, Somali Community Action Group, Somalia Disability Empowerment Network and Somalia Women Development Center recruited new Justice Promoters to work with people living in the fast-growing IDP camps.

Inside camps, residents face poor security and forced eviction. Justice Promoters taught community members their rights against unfair eviction, showed them how to file complaints with government agencies and explained how to report inappropriate police behavior. Community members who weren’t reached in person by Justice Promoters received information through radio and “Know Your Rights” campaigns. 

The value of the EAJ Justice Promoters approach was codified in 2022 when a district court gave permission for Justice Promoters to participate in case proceedings.

In total, 67 women and 115 men received specialized training to become Justice Promoters. Together, EAJ Justice Promoters supported 2,899 cases over the course of the program, 64% of which were brought by women. The EAJ Justice Promoters activity showed that training community members to become champions for legal assistance in their communities can be effective in helping the most vulnerable to exercise their rights.

Read more about the USAID Expanding Access to Justice program.