Groundbreaking Participation in Human Rights Competition
Last week the Youth Centre at Luzira Maximum Security Prison was busier than usual. Two of African Prisons Project’s (APP) undergraduate law students, who are serving sentences at Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala, were competing against 42 teams of African law students at the 28th African Human Rights Moot Competition. From prison, discussions of human rights law were crossing boundaries of incarceration and state. The Moot Competition, which took place from the 1st - 6th July 2019, is organised by the University of Pretoria and was hosted this year by the University of Botswana, Gaborone.
The two students, John and Canan, together as Team 24, were representatives of the University of London International Programme/APP Faculty of Law, having been tutored and coached by representatives of the latter (Ann Tendo & Milly Kakungulu). Team 24 is the first African team of incarcerated students to ever compete in a moot at the international level. Their participation is another moment in history highlighting the potential of all people including the most marginalised.
Initially, the understanding was that – by reason of incarceration, the students would not be able to participate, as they were unable to physically travel to Botswana to join other competing students. However, these barriers were overcome by the creative thinking of APP staff and the cooperation of Mr Yusuf Sayed of the University of Pretoria who agreed that the students could take part via video-link from Luzira Prison.
A Step Forward For Human Rights
“This conversation engaged those with direct experience of human rights abuses, as agents and not as subjects.”
Watching Canan and John stand as applicants and respondents felt like a step forward for human rights as they discussed some of the most topically salient human rights abuses occurring currently; refugee rights, statelessness, and sexual minority rights. Despite the fact that Team 24 failed to qualify for the final round, success felt more like the beginning of a truly universal conversation on human rights.
This conversation engaged those with direct experience of human rights abuses, as agents and not as subjects. For all of the officers and inmate students sponsored by APP watching the moot from Luzira Prison, this event highlighted that legal education can transport a person beyond the confines of their marginalisation.
Canan reflected, "By looking at those being victimized by circumstances of war, natural calamities, crime, unemployment, poverty and tribal and ethnic clashes, and consequently suffering in IDP camps and refugee camps, we can hopefully begin to make a change and create a better world for me and you".
Inspired Submissions Lead to New Relationships
For those at APP, the Moot is only the beginning of student engagement in global socio-legal discussions. Although the other moot competitors posed significant threat to Team 24, they ultimately also became a source of inspiration and motivation. John Bosco commented: “Personally, I was extremely impressed by the oral submission from two women from team 35 with whom we mooted. Their submission has motivated me to embark on more research and practice if I am to be on top of my game”.
But the submissions of the two women went further. In Uganda, the students from the womens’ prison, who are starting their own studies now, had the opportunity for direct conversation with Team 35 regarding the need for further female representation at next year’s moot – APP inclusive.
Helen, one of the UOL students and an auxiliary paralegal, noted, “It’s very important for women to be engaged in the legal programme in which I am in. Reason being that by equipping a woman with the law as a tool, it’s important for society. It will curb crime and reduce cases. Women will also be able to defend themselves.”
APP’s law students also include prison staff. Christine, a UPS Rehabilitation and Reintegration Officer and second year UOL student, also gave her reflections during the Moot. “Women as a gender have a lot of issues which put them at a disadvantage. Not many have gone to school. In our families they view the education of a girl as less important than the education of boys. Therefore, they are not informed about many issues. So if they come to prison and can work with a prison officer who can advise them legally, they are able to stand up on their own, to represent themselves and in the long run access justice.”
The Moot has thus become a significant moment of change in understanding what legal education can and should mean for such students - prisoners and prison staff.
John Bosco, one of APP’s participants, reflected on the Moot: “The competition stirred up not only my love and passion for the legal profession but rather strengthened me.”
Great Thanks and Heartfelt Congratulations
For successfully executing the moot, all thanks go out to Karen Saidi in Botswana and Cyrus Tumukunde in Kampala of APP and Gilbert Niwamany; Officers-in-Charge, Moses Ssentalo & Doreen Asiimwe and ACP Frank Baine; all of UPS, and their staff.
Theirs is a testimony to the best in Public/Private Partnership. The partnerships and vision seen here should inspire not just other inmates and prison staff but all. Finally, great thanks and the most heartfelt congratulations go out to the University of Nairobi, University of Namibia and Université Félix Houphouët on their respective wins this year. With foresight, not hindsight, we hope to challenge their position as defending champions in 2020.
Regional Director Peter Tibigambwa sums up how ground-breaking and inspiring this team have been. “Having worked with this team of inspirational and courageous Changemakers, I am truly proud to that they are being referred to as the 4th Industrial revolution! Which it truly is; some of those in this community have been on death row, yet never gave up. Every conversation I have had with each one of the 64 students I have worked with (in Kenya and Uganda's Maximum Security Prisons) on why they are doing this Law degree, a programme often referred to as hard to study and only for the privileged and to pursue lucrative career, all I've had is: to serve my peers, to serve those who have suffered at the hands of the law....... Watching 2 of our own take on students from 50 other universities in Africa today was truly inspirational, and revolutionary, yet this is only the beginning!”