Newsflash::: last week, two IJM Uganda clients and their families were successfully restored to their land!
In our office, that statement alone is enough to make the whole office burst out in whoops, hollers, and extensive clapping; enough to make our field office director break out into a ridiculously exuberant dance; enough to immediately make me hop on a bodaboda to go buy queen cakes (like cupcakes, sort of) so that the whole office staff can celebrate properly. It’s a big deal.
I wanted to share the good news, but quickly realized that without a deeper understanding of our casework here in Uganda, that news probably means much less to you than it does to the team at IJM Uganda. Never fear, I am here to explain everything. 🙂 (Note: This stuff is pretty meaty, but if you last through it, I guarantee you’ll have a much better understanding of our work here – and hopefully next time I announce victim relief, you’ll be able to do a little dance, too!)
The story of a case at IJM Uganda is a long, long process that can take anywhere from a few months to many years. Basically, it all starts under a mango tree or inside a village church at one of IJM’s Legal Education days. The Church and Community Relations department coordinates about 20 legal education seminars in our project area every year. These legal education days educate the public on all aspects of illegal property seizure, including how to safeguard your family against having their property stolen. Community members are taught how to write a will and formalize their marriage, if necessary.
Afterward, IJM lawyers conduct on-site case intakes, where they sit down and meet with widows or families who have had their property stolen and record the necessary information to determine if the case is within our casework boundaries (does it deal specifically with stealing property from a widow or orphan? Is the evidence enough to make the case credible and doable?)
The Legal Education team takes this information back to the office, where they pass it over to the Investigations department. The Investigations team is in charge of analyzing casework, identifying the perpetrator (ie the person who stole the property from the rightful owner), and deciding whether to open the case or not. Once it’s opened, they work with the attorneys on the Interventions team to gather the necessary information to move forward with the case.
If possible, IJM tries to restore the widow to her land through family mediation meetings. Many times, the perpetrators will back down from their illegal control of the land once they realize that they have been caught breaking the law. In those cases, the threat of civil action against the perpetrator is often enough to secure the land for the widow. If mediation meetings are unsuccessful, the case then moves into either the civil or criminal courts (depending on which charges were brought against the perpetrator), where it can get bogged down in months of judicial hearings and delayed rulings.
Even if the mediation meetings are successful, there are still many steps necessary to achieve full victim relief, including securing the official land title that definitively proves the widow’s right to own and occupy her late husband’s land. At this point, a case can often be halted due to lost files, unclear boundary lines for the land title, and a host of other reasons.
Meanwhile, the Aftercare department looks after both the immediate and long-term needs of our clients – their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. If the lawyers of the Interventions department are the brains of IJM casework, Aftercare is the heart of IJM’s casework: They’re the ones who walk hand-in-hand with the IJM clients down the hard, intimidating road of securing justice; they’re the ones who ensure that regaining a widow’s land is just the first step in a life newly transformed by hope and restoration.
By partnering with local development organizations and compassion ministries, the Aftercare department helps treat any medical needs (many of our clients are HIV+), helps the orphaned kids get sponsored for school, and works with the widows to create income-generating opportunities for themselves (eg. raising chickens, starting a small business, etc).
Finally, after what can be anywhere from a month to a few years, when the widow has regained the official right to her land and has the necessary legal documentation to prove her ownership of the land, we count victim relief!!!
There are some amazing stories that have come out of this sort of IJM casework in Uganda and hopefully I’ll be able to share an officially approved client story with you soon. As you can see, it’s a long hard road for these widows and orphans to travel. The stuff they are rescued from is heart-breaking, the pain is unimaginable… but the victory at the end is very, very sweet.