This article was updated on 07/08/17, 27/06/18 and 17/10/20 from when it was originally published in 2015
“The damage sustained by the Afrikan peoples is not a thing of the past, but is painfully manifested in the damaged lives of contemporary Afrikans from Harlem to Harare’ in the damaged economies of the Black World from Guinea to Guyana from Somalia to Suriname.”
Abuja Proclamation of the First Conference on Reparations for Enslavement, Colonisation & Neocolonisation, 1993
No exact template or model exists for the All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth & Reparatory Justice (APPCITARJ) in that it will have to be shaped in a way that meets the needs and aspirations of Afrikan Heritage Communities that have been enslaved, colonised or otherwise oppressed by the British Empire and/or the current British State. However, our vision is that the APPCITARJ will consist of British and European Parliamentary Commissions established with representation from the political parties in these parliaments and thy will hear our submissions as Afrikan Heritage Communities who have been impacted by the Maangamizi (Afrikan Hellacaust of chattel, colonial and neocolonial enslavement). This is an example of the revolutionary use of reform in that we are tactically seeking to use establishment institutions and some of their processes to achieve some of our revolutionary objectives for reparatory justice social change and transformation.
For us in the ‘Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide!’ Campaign (SMWeCGEC), this is not about taking our individual and collective cases to parliamentarians for those parliamentarians, on their own, to decide on the merits of our individual/family/people’s case and to make final judgements about what the outcomes should be. In our view, this adjudication function can best be achieved by the establishment of the Ubuntukgotla – Peoples International Tribunal for Global Justice (PITGJ) in which representatives of our people and other peoples who have experienced European colonialism, enslavement and genocide become the judges using law from our various people’s legal traditions. Rather, the establishment of the APPCITARJs, at the levels of the Westminster Houses of Parliament and the European Parliament, are a tactic to facilitate widespread evidence gathering which reveal facts about the magnitude of the Maangamizi and for the public dissemination of that evidence as part of the battle to win hearts of minds and influence public opinion to support our people’s cause.
It is therefore important for the proposed APPCITARJ to seek an appropriately weighted balance between an individualized approach that places victims and perpetrators at the centre of the process and recognising as well as redressing the impact of the Maangamizi on whole collectivities. However, this requires a focus on tackling the systemic aspects of the Maangamizi and examining the role of institutions, structures of legitimisation and governance in its continuance. In this regard, we are keen to ensure that the systemic aspects of the Maangamizi are no longer hidden from scrutiny or public accountability.
“We call upon the British state to honour the need and right of the descendants of the enslaved to speak in a public forum, provide testimony and evidence of how the legacies of enslavement are resulting in continued human and peoples’ rights violations, impaired quality of life and the ensuing destruction of the essential foundations of life for Afrikan people today.”
Dissemination of such evidence in the arena of the British public will compel the majority of the British public to agree with us that there is an overwhelming case for their criminal ruling classes to answer. In effect, we want our people to have a ‘hearing’ and to speak to the public, (court of public opinion) through the British Parliament. This entails exposing the evidence to the glare of the public and utilising various forms of media who will be reporting on the proceedings to influence public support for our cause of Afrikan Reparatory Justice. According to the 2005 United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to A Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, an essential aspect of reparations include, among other measures: investigation of the facts, official acknowledgement and apology, receipt of answers; an opportunity for victims to speak in a public forum about their experiences and to have active involvement in the reparative process. We are therefore seeking to ensure that our people’s testimonies will bring to light all the gory details that the British public has not been allowed to hear; has been denied true education about; and that we too have not been allowed to narrate on platforms with official legitimisation.
This parliamentary and extra-parliamentary process will create the opportunity for a diverse collectivity of Afrikan voices, from all over the world, to speak to the Maangamizi crimes of the British Empire, the British State and its ruling classes, by providing public testimony about our family and people’s case, as we see it. Once these testimonies of ordinary people, as well as the various research and other forms of documentation of the Maangamizi that exists, are being heard over and over again, clarity will dawn on the British public.
Ultimately, we are seeking to ensure that our combined evidence, voiced, recorded and reported from the UK and European Parliaments, paints the horrific truth of the culprits crimes. This is an opportunity we have never been given. Once the British public have heard the whole truth, it will be easier for us to win them over to our side; to publicise who the main culprits are ; and elucidate the harm that their deception over the years has done not only to Afrikan Heritage Communities, but also to the British people as a whole. This spark-rippling process will in itself compel the majority of those conscientious members of the British people to join us all in movement-building to stop the harm and repair the damage being done to themselves, and to others, in their name. So what will be a just retribution in terms of holding such perpetrators to account? One form of retribution is to strip the criminals of their ill-gotten wealth and status (“Expropriate the Expropriators!) and reclaim our wealth for Reparatory Justice Redistribution.
A large part of our people’s case for compensation is that this is unjustly obtained intergenerational wealth includes the wealth that which we as Afrikan Heritage Communities, are historically owed and have been denied, in addition to what is being stolen from and owed to our contemporary generations. We therefore advocate that we must have out of that redistributed wealth, all that we need to repair our own selves i.e. Afrikan Community Self-Repairs*. Although, we concede that the majority of British people deserve some of that wealth from their ruling classes in terms of wealth that has also been stolen from them over the years. Practically, this is how we see that external compensation in the form of the just redistribution of our people’s wealth will be secured.
*Afrikan Community Self-Repairs are the self-determined efforts that need to be made in building our own power, in such a way, that Afrikan heritage communities are able to identify and enhance ongoing work towards stopping the contemporary manifestations of the Maangamizi, which are putting the individuals, families and other social groups that make up our communities into a state of disrepair; as well as reasoning and consciously carrying out the alternative solutions for glocally rebuilding our power base as communities, in such a way that that they are eventually transformed, in accordance with the principles and programmatic demands of Pan-Afrikan Reparations for Global Justice.
“The inheritance of rich people’s wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed“
So for us, the strategic purpose of the APPCITARJ is to divorce the masses of the British public from aligning with their ruling classes in order that they can once again be on the right side of history (as were many of their abolitionists); in collaborating with us to strip their ruling classes of their ill-gotten wealth and other gains and collaborate with us to secure its redistribution.
One of the greatest challenges for transformative reparatory justice change processes and mechanisms is addressing not only the histories of acts of Maangamizi dispossession and violence, but also those of structural violence, where power relations are manifest through the systematic and collective violation/s of economic, social and cultural rights. In many contexts, racialised and otherwise marginalised populations, particularly those of Afrikan heritage, are often systematically excluded from community development initiatives as well as often being denied full participation and substantive Afrikan Heritage Community representation in social, economic and political life. So the way other commissions of inquiry or truth commissions have interacted with ‘victims’ of these harm causing violations; such as receiving testimony, writing histories of victimization in such a way that assists such groups to recover their agency, and recommending reparative approaches – can be replicated with Afrikan Heritage Communities as a collective victim.
The 2014 Instance de la Vérité et Dignité (IVD, Commission for Truth and Dignity) in Tunisia pointed the way, by seeking to address the broad range of demands that the Tunisian Revolution made, including not just for truth, but also threats to dignity including issues such as the lack of graduate jobs and the often extreme geographical inequalities that came to the fore in Tunisia under the Ben Ali regime. To address the issue of the collective and structural violence of social exclusion; and for the first time in the history of truth commissions; the IVD defined and implemented the concept of a collective victim as including: “any person who suffered harm following a violation…, be they individuals, or groups of individuals” (Organic law on Transitional Justice).
To maximize the impact of collective reparations for Afrikan Heritage Communities requires that such reparations not only address harms, but also the structures and institutions underpinning such harms, and ensure that the such reparations transform the circumstances of unjustly impoverished and marginalised victims. Such transformation occurring in such a way as to address contemporary injustice in its multiple dimensions, (i.e. historical, ethnic, social, political, cultural, religious, sexual, epistemic and ecological). Such injustice being underpinned by ‘cognitive injustice’ which is the failure to recognise the plurality of different knowledges by which Afrikan Heritage Communities give meaning to their existence. It is only by pursuing global cognitive justice that holistic and transformative reparatory justice can become a reality. Hence why in our approach to developing the APPCITARJ, we are cognizant of the need to also adopt approaches, processes, mechanisms and initiatives that incorporate the legal cosmovisions (Indigenous worldviews), ideas and claims of Afrikan people. This in itself, requires a more complete set of tools for building alternatives to the present system of legalized injustice.
“Always remember that the people do not fight for ideas, for the things that exist only in the heads of individuals. The people fight and accept the necessary sacrifices. But they do it in order to gain material advantages, to live in peace and to improve their lives, to experience progress, and to be able to guarantee a future for their children. National liberation, the struggle against colonialism, working for peace and progress, independence – all of these will be empty words without significance for the people unless they are translated into real improvements in the conditions of life.”
Amilcar Cabral, Guinea-Bissau: A Study of Political Mobilisation, 1974, p.91
Among the challenges facing reparations for Maangamizi resistors and survivors, is to differentiate between reparations and the requirement that a state deliver basic public services. Reparatory justice measures will not be secured from others outside of a comprehensive and holistic Afrikan Heritage Community Pempamsie (sewing together) Community Self-Repairs Plan and related policies, which must accompany and shape it. This is why we in the SMWeCGEC, in partnership with the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC), its allied organisations and other formations within and beyond the UK such as the MAATUBUNTUMITAWU-Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council in West Afrika, are mobilizing and supporting others to self-organise year-round building on the 2017-2018 Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March theme of ‘Promoting the reparatory justice change that we are organising to bring about’ as a key aspect of advancing the 2020 declared Reparations Rebellion which continues into 2021 organising around the theme: Defeating Neocolonialism with Afrikan Autonomy: All Roads Must Lead to Our Sacred Cause of Reparations.
Pempamsie Adinkra symbol
The beginnings of such a Pempamsie Plan were documented in the 2003 Black Quest for Justice Campaign (BQJC) legal & extra-legal Strategy for Pan-Afrikan Reparations for Global Justice; and were included in its legal action supported by the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE), the Black United Front (BUF), the then newly formed Global Afrikan Congress (GAC) and the International Front for Afrikan Reparations (IFAR).
Characteristics of Commissions of Inquiry with Truth Commission Functions:
In her thesis, ‘Truth Commissions and Public Enquiries: Investigating Historical Injustices in established Democracies’ Kim Stanton asserts that the truth commission is really a specialised form of public inquiry that has developed over the last three decades as a response to historical injustices.
“In recent decades, the truth commission has become a mechanism used by states to
address historical injustices. However, truth commissions are rarely used in established
democracies, where the commission of inquiry model is favoured. I argue that established
democracies may be more amenable to addressing historical injustices that continue to
divide their populations if they see the truth commission mechanism not as a unique
mechanism particular to the transitional justice setting, but as a specialised form of a
familiar mechanism, the commission of inquiry. In this framework, truth commissions are
distinguished from other commissions of inquiry by their symbolic acknowledgement of
historical injustices, and their explicit “social function” to educate the public about those
injustices in order to prevent their recurrence.”
Abstract, Kim Pamela Stanton (2010), pii
To get a sense of what we are envisioning for the APPCITARJ, it is best to understand what a truth commission is.
• Truth commissions are generally understood to be “bodies set up to investigate a past history of violations of human rights in a particular country -which can include violations by the military or other government forces or armed opposition forces.” Priscilla B. Hayner, in ‘Unspeakable Truths’ delineates four main characteristics of truth commissions:
1. First, they focus on the past and its impact. The events may have occurred in the recent past, but a truth commission is not an ongoing body akin to a human rights commission.
2. Second, truth commissions investigate a pattern of abuse over a set period of time rather than a specific event. In its mandate, the truth commission is given the parameters of its investigation both in terms of the time period covered as well as the type of human rights violations to be explored.
3. Third, a truth commission is a temporary body, usually operating over a period of six months to two years and completing its work by submitting a report. These parameters are established at the time of the commission’s formation, but often an extension can be obtained to wrap things up.
4. Fourth, truth commissions are officially sanctioned, authorised, or empowered by the state. This, in principle, allows the commission to have greater access to information, greater security, and increased assurance that its findings will be taken under serious consideration. Official sanction from the government is crucial because it represents an acknowledgment of past wrongs and a commitment to address the issues. Furthermore, governments may be more likely to enact recommended reforms if they have established the commission.
Goals of Truth Commissions Include:
• Making recommendations for redress suffered by victims and survivors
• Recording and educating about the past
• Identifying perpetrators
• Formulating policy proposals and recommendations on rehabilitation and the healing of Maangamizi resistors, survivors, their families and the community at large
• Providing the victims/survivors with different forms of support to ensure that the commission of inquiry/truth commission process restores the victims’ dignity
• Preventing repetition of aspects of the Maangamizi
• Forming the basis for a new pluriversal democratic order
• Promoting reconciliation
• Creating a collective memory.
You can see a list of some previous truth commissions here.
Characteristics of Commissions of Inquiry with Truth Commission Functions:
- They are non-judicial mechanisms but can complement judicial mechanisms;
- They are commissions of inquiry whose primary function is investigation of human and people and Mother Earth rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, unlike courts or tribunals which deal with adjudication;
- They focus on severe acts of violence or repression;
- They are victim-centred bodies focused on victims ideas, views, needs, experiences and preferences as primary focus as opposed to elite witnesses or perpetrators;
- They formulate recommendations to guarantee the non-repetition of past crimes and reform state institutions involved in the commission of human, peoples and Mother Earth rights violations.
Truth Commission Activities
- Investigations/ documentation of violations/ research
- Statement taking
- Interview/ public hearings
- Victim Support
- Events and programmes to promote intra and inter community cohesion, reconciliation and conciliation
- Public awareness.
Advantages of the APPCITARJ:
- It will delegitimize Maangamizi denial;
- It will rebut misrepresentations of the old order through investigations, public hearings and detailed reports;
- It will spur significant national debates on repairs and redress;
- It will help governments to take corrective/reparatory actions and develop reparatory policies;
- It will provide a measure of accountability for the legacies of past and present atrocities and violations/abuses of human, peoples and Mother Earth rights through its findings.
There are many factors that will determine the composition and mandate of the APPCITARJ including how much we are able to bring pressure to bear on relevant decision-makers and institutions. There has already been some thinking, analysis, research and consultation on what the purpose of the APPCITARJ should be, although this is an evolving process.
Elements of a Participatory Reparations Process
- Building direct channels of communication with affected communities, in order to raise awareness of the justice process and promote understanding of the measure. Outreach is therefore central to the mandate of the APPCITARJ, as it is a crucial means for the justice programme to engage with and impact the public.
- Outreach activities should work not only to disseminate information to the public, but also to create forums for two-way communication through dialogues, consultation, and participatory events at all stages of the APPCITARJ process.
- There should be a dedicated budget for outreach, outreach materials should be culturally appropriate.
- Thus far, truth commissions have rarely moved into the more empowerment types of participation (such as decision-making concerning how interviews take place or concrete reparation recommendations), usually remaining more non-dispositive.
- To address this, the APPCITARJ must facilitate meaningful inclusion and participation in the early phases, to give a voice to victim needs and concerns and provide some sort of decision-making, such as determining the best methods for reaching communities, taking statements or understanding the statements in a given situation.
- The APPCITARJ mandate will set out its goals and objectives, designates the violations and time period under investigation, and specifies a timeframe for completion of work. The mandate will also specify the acts that the APPCITARJ will investigate.
- Negotiating an appropriate mandate is key for the APPCITARJ to be able to explore social and environmental justice issues and the broader contours of the legacies of enslavement (The Maangamizi).
The APPCITARJ will Seek to:
- Redress global inequalities caused by the Transoceanic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans (TTEA). These include, but are not limited to, social, economic and ecological harms;
- Acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of the imposition of the Maangamizi, i.e. Afrikan chattel, colonial and neocolonial enslavement within and beyond the British Empire;
- Examine the health, social, environmental and climate impacts of neocolonialism as it impacts on Afrikan Heritage Communities;
- Examine Afriphobia and subsequent de jure and de facto racial and socio-economic discrimination against Afrikans and people of Afrikan descent, including their gendered impacts and consequences;
- Examine how Afrikan enslavement, colonialism and neocolonialism have directly benefited societal institutions, both public and private, including higher education and other public sector organisations, corporations, as well as religious organisations;
- Make recommendations to Parliament and similar bodies at local, national and international levels, including the European Parliament, and;
- Determine appropriate methods of dissemination of findings to the public within and beyond Britain for consultation about proposals for supporting initiatives of Afrikan Heritage Community Self-Repairs, Planet Repairs and designing other forms of redress and repairs.
On the Importance of Speaking our Grassroots Power of Truth to Establishment Power
“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim… he or she has become a threat.”
James Baldwin, ‘The Devil Finds Work’, 1976
In providing testimony, the so-called victim/survivor becomes an agent, and his/her narrative is especially threatening because it dares to expose violations and violence when others declare that such oppressions do not exist.
The APPCITARJ will not substitute a judicial process and is not designed to let perpetrators off the hook. Hence the need for the APPCITARJ to evolve in conjunction with the PITGJ. The organising processes towards establishment of the APPCITARJ, including the mobilisational role of the SMWeCGEC, will also galvanise grassroots work towards establishing glocal sittings of the PITGJ, as part of a series of actions which will put a full stop, by way of holistic and transformative reparations, to all acts of Genocide/Ecocide against Afrikan people.
Begin Preparing Yourself for the APPCITARJ & PITGJ
You can prepare yourself for the APPCITARJ by beginning to do family and community research on how we and our immediate families each have suffered, continue to suffer and have also challenged the various crimes of the Maangamizi. In this regard, see the aims of the SMWeCGEC.
Afrikans in the UK and Europe organising towards establishing commissions of inquiry for truth and reparatory justice and local, national and international people’s tribunals to hold the governments of Britain, and other European countries to account. If you are able to gather such evidence you can assist us to arrive at a comprehensive assessment and a full picture of what our journeys and experiences of the Maangamizi have been across the Diaspora, as well as on the continent of Afrika.
Each person and representative of families and their communities have to become our own advocates and experts on your own situation and then we can bring all these experiences together as part of us becoming ‘reparations enforcers’ who are building the power and capacity to hold to account all those who are continuing to profit from the ill-gotten gains of the Maangamizi and are also complicit in its perpetuation today.
See the video below from the documentary ‘Freedom Summer’ for some APPCITARJ lessons from our Shero Fannie Lou Hamer.
Hamer’s testimony had such a huge impact upon the government and public in and outside the USA, and was so powerful, that President Lyndon B. Johnson called an impromptu press conference to get her off the air. This is a recording of the full testimony and also a transcript of that testimony. Her testimony provides an example of what we envisage could be the impact similar ISMAR-coordinated grassroots testimonies by our Afrikan Survivors, Resistors and Challengers of the Maangamizi, from all over the World to the APPCITARJs in the UK Parliament of Westminster and the European Parliament. We surmise that the ‘holding to account’ referred to above can best be done in a collective way by supporting the establishment of the Ubuntukgotla, court of peoples humanity interconnectedness, otherwise known as the Peoples International Tribunal for Global Justice (U-PITGJ), which we encourage you to support the development of. This can be done through hosting sittings of the tribunal, locally, nationally and internationally.
As part of the rationale for this approach, it is important to have a better sense of the historical antecedents of the SMWeCGEC in the UK, see these historic recordings from 2003 of Esther Stanford-Xosei, former legal advisor to the BQJC speaking about the BQJC legal & extra-legal strategy for reparations; the need for a UK commission of inquiry to address the legacies of the Maangamizi; and the commencement of the UK version of the ‘We Charge Genocide Petition and campaign’ under the auspices of then then Black United Front-Parliament (BUF-P). The second set of videos where Stanford-Xosei is interviewed, precedes in order and time the first video where she speaks to camera.
Set up a Family or Community Group Maatzoedzaduara
You can set up a MAATZOEDZADUARA (i.e. Maat action-learning circles or ‘Maat Training Practice Rings’) which is a reparatory justice circle of Maat practitioners who learn to be the self-repairs change at the levels of their person, home, family, neighbourhood, workplace, school, places of leisure and worship, etc. These Maat Training Practice Rings encompass a number of families and lineages, across geographical boundaries and generations. For example, a home or family based Maat Training Practice Ring will entail getting a selected number of people in your family interested in unravelling family histories and using this knowledge to recognise and gather evidence of the harm that has been done to you as a family.
The Practice Rings will also explore how such harms have been passed down throughout the generations, resulting in increasing levels of disrepair. We are looking for case studies of some of these family stories documenting family member’s lived experiences of the Maangamizi and resistance to it. This unravelling of these stories is part of the process of repairing the harm and continuing damage being done and passed down intergenerationally within our own families.
You can also creatively utilise SMWeCGEC Petition Soulsquestathons (SMWeCGEC-PS), which are literally a collection of souls, for spark-rippling MAATZOEZADUARAs. The aim is to link chains of MAATZOEZADUARAs together encompassing a number of families, across geographical boundaries and generations, all over the place, as Grassroots Afrikan Reparatory Justice Action Learning Praxis Exercising Rings (GARJALPERs) of the PITGJ. This means that they will share their stories and practice not only testifying with these stories but also putting their cases through trial rehearsals. The key point about the Soulsquestathons is that the various participants connect to, compare and contrast their self-repairs reparatory justice work as families within these MAATZOEZADUARAs. Basically, these are intergenerational connections, not only of family members of the present, but also the past. It therefore becomes necessary for us to keep records about and bring the lives and work of our revered Ancestors into our everyday lives of the present.
If you would like to know more about how to get involved with the APPCITARJ/U-PITGJ or you would like support with setting up a Maatzoedzaduara please contact PARCOE on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07751143043.
Share Your Story!
One of the roles of the APPCITARJ will be to gather statements from Maangamizi resistors, survivors and anyone else who feels they have been impacted by the Maangamizi and its legacies.
It is our intention to coordinate the collection of individual statements by written, electronic or other appropriate means such as audio-visual recordings with regard to providing a safe, supportive and sensitive environment for individual/collective/group statement taking/truth sharing.
If you would like to begin with compiling your story as a case study or indeed to make a statement about the impact of the Maangamizi, you are invited to contact us to discuss how best this can be done.
A good starting point is to participate in I AM WITNESS
In partnership with the Afrikan Emancipation Day Afrikan Reparations March Committee and other reparatory justice organising processes, we in the SMWeCGEC will continue to consult and canvass our communities, networks and constituencies of the ISMAR on the following four themes:
1. How best people can be involved and participate in the APPCITARJ?
2. Aims, hopes and fears for the APPCITARJ?
3. Mandate, terms of reference, powers and structure of the APPCITARJ?
4. What are the other ways to deal with the legacies of the Maangamizi and enforce accountability?
The SMWeCGEC will continue to develop alliance-building work; such as has occurred with the Green Party who at their 2020 autumn conference which concluded on the 11th October 2020, passed a motion on ‘Atonement and Reparative Justice for the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans‘. The SMWeCGEC worked with members of the Green Party in developing this motion.
What you can do
2.Lobby your elected officials with the Stop The Maangamizi Postcard;
3.Subscribe to action-learning sessions with the Maangamizi Educational Trust (M.E.T.);
4.Participate in the quarterly Ubuntudunia Reparations Rebellion Action Reasonings (URRARs);
5.Contact the M.E.T. to learn about and participate in the APPCITARJ Matemasie Action Learning Test Hearings (APPCITARJ-MALTHs).
It is important that you let us know how you get on with your local MP or other publicly elected officials so that we can keep a record of progress or where there is a need for more focused lobbying. Here are the contact details for the SMWeCGEC. Please also see this guidance on Guidance on Proposals for Parliamentary Actions.
Volunteer Researchers are Required to Contribute to a People’s History-Making Process of Securing Reparatory Justice!
If you are a law or politics student or have other relevant skills and experience and you are interested in using your knowledge and skills to support Afrikan people’s struggle for holistic redress and secure Afrikan Reparatory Justice, you can become a volunteer researcher. We are looking for volunteer researchers who would like to join the SMWeCGEC research team in preparations for establishing the APPCITARJ and the PITGJ. If you would like to get involved, please contact: Afrikan Reparations Transnational Community of Practice (ARTCoP) on email@example.com or the M.E.T.
Support from Movement Lawyers is Welcome!
If you are a social justice advocate, legal practitioner or cause lawyer and would like to offer pro-bono advice or support to this community-led initiative; are willing to build equitable relationships with people and organisations challenging historical and contemporary injustice; and are prepared to respect the approach of social justice/community lawyering,*please also get in touch as above.
*Community lawyering has many variants: collaborative lawyering, community, lay lawyering, cause lawyering, social justice lawyering, political lawyering, critical lawyering, rebellious lawyering, movement-lawyering etc. The common thread among them is that the clients, not the lawyers, play a central role in resolving the issues that have an impact on their opportunities to succeed. It is: lawyering that is community-located, community-collaborative, community-directed and based on the collaboration of lawyers, clients and communities in which they live; and transforming law and lawyering to address the inequalities experienced by subordinated and underserved groups. The legal system in the UK and other Westernised countries is very individualistic. It tends to atomise and depoliticise disputes, which work against a community organising model. Furthermore, the facilitation of individual rights has not benefited the long-term needs of communities, especially impoverished communities, especially where such impoverishment is as a result of intergenerational injustice. The Sargent Shriver National Centre on Poverty Law (USA) defines “community lawyering” as a “process through which advocates contribute their legal knowledge and skills to support initiatives that are identified by the community and enhance the community’s power.”
Similar to the different schools of thought in community organising, community lawyering has many different strains. However, what sets lawyers who adopt community lawyering apart from each other boils down to their answers to the following three questions: Who do you work with? What do you do for them? And how do you work together? Similar to community organising, the answers to these questions vary depending on the political orientation of the lawyer and the theory of social change they ascribe to. By combining legal recourse and community organising, it is possible to utilise “community lawyering” as a social change strategy.” This approach engages lawyers who are prepared to de-emphasise litigation as the primary tool for advancing social justice. Instead, community lawyering encourages such lawyers, in collaboration with communities, their groups, activists and organisers, to critically and creatively examine non-traditional forms of advocacy such as facilitative leadership, institution-building, community organising, collective action and other grassroots actions including strategic litigation, media events, community education workshops and public demonstrations. This is done as a way of addressing the legal and non-legal problems of their clients. Community lawyering can also be described as a more participatory process that fosters collaboration between lawyers and their community (group) clients, rather than fostering—if not perpetuating—the dependency that most clients have on their lawyers to solve their legal problems in a conventional lawyer-client relationship.
The role of a “community lawyer” entails working in partnership with one’s community clients and utilises multiple forms of advocacy, to address their individual as well as systemic problems. Community lawyering practitioners recognise that their clients are partners—not just in name—but in leadership, control and decision-making. Through collaboration, lawyers can support Afrikan Heritage Community groups in building their own resources and community capacities to advance their own interests in effecting and securing reparatory justice in a self-determined and self-directed manner.
Another critical component of community lawyering is creating race-conscious cultural competence—a set of beliefs, values, and skills built into a structure that enables one to negotiate cross-cultural situations in a manner that does not force one to assimilate to the other. The goal of race-conscious community lawyering is to support lasting structural and systemic changes that will bring about holistic reparatory justice for racialised groups.
Movement-lawyering is a specific form of community lawyering. It is rooted in the truth that legal work or even legal victories alone cannot win meaningful change. Throughout OURSTORY, lasting change has only come when social movements, grounded in grassroots activism community organizing that builds the capacity, power and solidarity of people experiencing injustice, become strong enough to shift power dynamics in our societies.
Movement lawyers work to support communities fighting injustice, enabling those most harmed by intersectional forms of oppression to lead the fight for transformative change. This lawyering recognises that community members and organisers have expertise that should be valued. In fact, movement lawyers should also be engaged in a process of political study and growth collectively with organisers that are aligned with particular community struggles. Here are some tips for lawyers that are aligned with movements and are particularly relevant to how lawyers can best support communities, their activists and organisers who are engaged in reparatory justice struggles as part of the ISMAR.
 Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths. New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 14.