Justine Mwanaisha Saidi
Growing up in a household that held little consideration for women and girls, Justine Mwanaisha Saidi had a childhood full of injustice and lack of freedom of speech. Her broader environment, the Democratic Republic of Congo, also has a history of violence, war and human rights violations. Her personal background has invigorated her passion for justice and gender equality that led her to pursue her studies in law.
Since receiving her masters in private law and judiciary, Justine Mwanaisha Saidi has become involved in many Organizations that work to help women in their struggle for freedom and equality. These include the Association of Women’s Freedom in Maniema (AFILM) where she was a legal advisor and Organization of Women for Training and Development Organization (WEDO) where she provided legal counsel. She has also been a legal adviser and trainer to youth in the Association Friend (s) of Father Tony (ASAPT) where she still currently works. This educated young people about their rights and the legal system in general.
She has also taken several courses and participated in training sessions throughout the years to raise her knowledge on several issues. She attended such seminars on the ‘fight against torture and inhuman treatment’, ‘Role of Advocate in the fight against sexual violence’, ‘The role of the lawyer in building a rule of law in DR Congo’ and ‘Fight against the disappearance and torture program’.
As a lawyer, she has been selected by her superiors to represent the her organization in various international and local meeting. She hopes to continue dedicating her life to legally defending and protecting the rights of vulnerable people while helping them understand the legal principles of international and local criminal law.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history human rights violations that continues to strive today in the midst of armed conflicts. According to several research reports by organizations such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Lawyers without Borders, the criminal justice system in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a great concern, especially the city of Bukavu. This city is known for having a particularly high rate of criminality. Yet magistrates, judges, police, prosecutors and prison officials who act as agents of criminal justice in are poorly trained, unmotivated and deeply corrupt. Prisons are in bad conditions and prisoners’ rights, such as to food and visits, are rarely respected. Furthermore, torture and other breaches of dignity are used frequently. Unsurprisingly, the people who are most affected are the poor and vulnerable youth, as they are often forced to get involved in drug abuses, alcoholism, criminality, armed groups, etc. Approximately 76% of accused people in Bukavu are juveniles and 70 % of them do not have access to competent legal representation. Juveniles are delayed or denied the right to a just trial for several reasons. A major reason is because they are either poor or simply cannot afford the expensive services of a lawyer. Many of these juveniles are also ignorant of their legal rights and of the procedures of criminal justice. Furthermore, serious issues have introduced challenges to the claiming of legal rights such as a limited number of lawyers, the communities lack of knowledge of the criminal justice system as well as a long history of having a weak and unfair justice system.
Justine plans on using her $5,000 JusticeMakers grant to providing free legal representation to detainees, particularly youth, in the city of Bukavu. This is in response to the vast problem of denial or delay of access to competent legal representation for the marginalized and vulnerable accused. She intends to do this by first meeting with the youth to hear their experiences with the legal system then by elaborating and/or writing of judicial acts to be introduced to administrative and judicial authorities. In order to reduce the number of youth who are denied and delayed their access to legal representation she plans on educating them on their legal rights though several mediums. Second, a collaboration and awareness of the judges, police, prosecutors and prison officials responsibility as criminal justice agents and on judicial procedures is important to the process. Finally, the dissemination of information on youth’s rights and legal representation will be executed.