Barefoot Lawyers.

Formation of the Legal Wing at the Uva Wellassa Women’s Organization. Date: 10th and 11th June 2017 Venue: Uva Wellassa Women’s Organisation Participation: Mr. Chitral Perera, Secretary, Janasansadaya (People’s Forum). Miss. Harshi Perera, Attorney at Law Upali Magedaragamage, Consultant, Rural Development 24 Legal Aid Facilitators including 02 legal aid interns 14 Members of the Women’s Organisations. 1. Presentations: 1.1. Miss. Harshi Perera, Attorney at Law, opened the session with sharing her recent experiences as an intern in Korea attached to the May 18th Movement. How Korea was divided into two immediately after the 2nd World War and the present situation was explained. South Korea which was under Americans and subsequently under military regimes and in 1979, a vocal civil society emerged that led to strong protests against authoritarian rule. Composed primarily of university students and labor unions, protests reached a climax after Major General Chun Doo-hwan's 1979 Coup d'état of December Twelfth and declaration of martial law. On May 18, 1980, a confrontation in the city of Gwangju between students of Chonnam National University protesting against the closure of their university and armed forces turned into a citywide riot that lasted nine days. Immediate estimates of the civilian death toll ranged from a few dozen to 2000, with a later full investigation by the civilian government finding 207 deaths (Gwangju Massacre). Public outrage over the killings consolidated nationwide support for democracy, paving the road for the first democratic elections in 1987. The experiences shared included, how the Rule of Law is in force and how the Police, Judiciary and the Human Rights Commission is functioning, how modern technology is used to monitor Police and prevent any type of violence and abuses. Most importantly how women’s rights are protected. The social status of women has become practically equal to men’s in social sectors such as legal rights, education, and health. There are however still major inequalities in workforce and political participation. The commitment and deep rooted dedication of the Korean people to protect democracy; the detest bribery and corruption was highlighted. The impeachment and removal of the former President and punishing her for the crimes committed was shown how strong the Rule of Law in the country and how independent is the judiciary system. Mr. Chitral Perera clarified the meaning of Barefoot Lawyers. A barefoot lawyer (Chinese: 赤脚律师 pinyin: chìjiǎo lǜshī) is a self-taught legal activist in China. Many barefoot lawyers are peasants who teach themselves enough law to file civil complaints, engage in litigation, and educate fellow citizens about their rights. We can use the definition as the activists who teach themselves practical application of law to help file civil complaints, facilitate in engaging in legal action, and educating fellow citizens about their rights.
Why the Korean experience was shared, why it is important and what lessons we could learn from them. Most of Sri Lankan youth from both sexes, nearly about 25,000 are employed in South Korea. Majority are unskilled labour. They learn Korean language to go to Korea. “Korea calls our youth because there are job opportunities. We send our youth for employment”. But, there is no dialogue
what so ever initiated among us how Korea is developed. That dialogue is important to the “Village Legal Aid Facilitators” or Barefoot Lawyers. This was followed by an interactive discussion on the violation of Human Rights, Women’s Rights and what action could be taken. Re-visiting to the earlier training programme for the 22 Legal Aid Facilitators, the approaches and steps that could be taken when a violation is taken place were discussed at length using case studies. The present situation of some legal cases was discussed in order to showcase the progress made. A complaint was taken as an example to explain what action could be taken when a rights violation has taken place. The case of a participant who worked in a Community water project who was removed from service was discussed. The importance of filing a case in the labour tribunal within a certain period of time emphasised. The hardships and difficulties she had to undergo being a woman accounts officer were surfaced and the corruption, abuse of power of elite was revealed. The disclosure enabled the participants to understand how Rule of Law is undermined in the country. If an employee has violated any rule or neglected work, the first thing is to issue a charge sheet giving the worker time to submit explanations and based on that a proper inquiry should be held. If service is terminated in a private sector institute, a case should be filed in the labour tribunal and make a complaint in the labour department and seek justice and settle the case. Explaining the duties of a village Legal Aid Facilitator (Barefoot Lawyer) Mr. Chitral perera emphasised on the following.
1. Investigate and understand the violation just about to happen; situation that prompted and the nature of the violation; and assist in taking legal action; encourage the victim by showing methods to take action.
In the process of mediating,
1. Identify all legal positions regarding the respective matter
2. Based on the need to intervene and take collective action
Assist in distancing and discarding the mythological beliefs in the oppressed parties; help facilitate in eliminating fear; explain straightforwardly the responsibilities; encourage. Explain well that the violence has not taken place due to Karma, bad time period or due to some ill omens, witchcraft or occultism, but, due to lack of Rule of Law. An interactive discussion was held on these matters and some wrong and mythical beliefs inculcated among the society was discussed showcasing their invalidity. The most important qualities that should be developed by the “Barefoot Lawyers” (Legal Aid Facilitators) were presented and discussed.
1. Breakaway from some mythical norms beliefs instilled in the minds from the birth, those are detrimental and block the right seeing and thinking.
2. Considering and treating females as lower to males; make them subordinate
3. Submissiveness, slavish mind, subservientness.
4. To discard and discourage the oppressive religio-cultural practices introduced
5. To question every activity, to be cautious and be suspicious
6. To break the frame and move out to analyse deeply
The role of the “Barefoot Lawyers” (Legal Aid Facilitators) is to challenge and discard such oppressive beliefs, practices and uses that depress and distress people. To consider and apply that every person is equal and no one is above anyone. To clarify this matter parts of the documentary film produced on Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was shown to the activists. Ambedkar was born as a low caste, untouchable and fought against the caste system and finally embraced Buddhism as in Buddha teachings one of the top priorities is given to equality. The very reason he accepted Buddhist religion because its - 1). Nature of reality, 2). Equality 3). Humanity and 4). Validity for all times. It is based on wisdom, compassion and right path. The caste system that prevails among the Sinhalese was discussed and it was agreed by every participant that it is like an iceberg that floats in the ocean. Although not shown openly, live in the same community, dine and wine together, when it comes to marriage or contest as a politician it surfaces and becomes a deciding factor. Although the Sri Lankan society speaks about equality, how caste divide is deeply and strongly embedded in the communities was analysed. Conclusions: To intervene continuously with the victim and provide necessary advice, instructions, get outside advice whenever necessary and make matter a people’s issue. To act as a collective (all 17 Women’s Organisations together) and write to the Inspector General of Police, calling his attention regarding the Police violence case at Siripura village. To act when there is any injustice or HR violence in the village or in the community appropriate and timely manner. To make use of the Right to Information Act wherever possible and needed to get information. To help establish Rule of Law and work against arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention of any individual in a case in which there is no likelihood or evidence that they committed a crime against legal statute, without proper due process of law. To remember always that the plaintiff and the defendant have equal rights and the judiciary should treat them fairly. Decisions made: 1. To select two members from each organisation and investigate and document any injustice caused in their locality or in the adjoining village. Step into intervene with the needy. 2. To constantly be vigilant on the complaint made on the Siripura Gama village violence
3. To follow up with the cases on nonpayment of maintenance to mothers/children in Randenigodayaya village. 4. To follow up on the land issue of the Women’s Organisation at Gonagamara village 5. To write a joint letter to the judiciary signed by all eighteen (18) Women’s Organisations asking to deliver the justice on Siripuragama Police Torture case without delay. Already the responsible Police officers were transferred and the next court date will be in July 2017. 6. To assist in filing a case on the illegal termination of services of the accounts clerk of the Randeniya community water project. 7. To elect two members from each WO and form a 36 member committee with the Legal Aid Facilitators and to meet monthly. Discuss all the injustices or violations at the committee meeting and forward for necessary action to the relevant government institutes and if further advise is needed to contact Janasansadaya.

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