East African states vow to boost access to legal aid for disadvantaged

NAIROBI, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — The six East African Community member states on Monday vowed to increase funding to programs that seek to provide more legal services to vulnerable groups like women, youth, children, the elderly and disabled.

Senior officials told a regional forum in Nairobi that availing legal aid to the disadvantaged is key to promoting human rights, stability, cohesion and inclusive development.

In his opening remarks, Kenyan Attorney General Paul Kihara said governments and non-state actors in the east African region have an obligation to ensure that legal services are available to marginalized groups.

“We must deliberately reach out and evolve appropriate mechanisms to take care of the most vulnerable in society,” Kihara said, adding that providing legal aid to the disadvantaged is supported by modern constitutions.

Senior judiciary officers, legal experts and representatives of bilateral partners attending the four-day forum discussed ways to make the justice system more responsive to the needs of the vulnerable members of the society.

Kihara said the creation of prosperous, inclusive and stable societies across the east African region depends on concerted efforts by governments to ensure legal services are available to people at the bottom of the pyramid.

The six members of the East African Community are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The east African states have focused on harmonization of policy and regulatory frameworks to boost the vitality of state-funded legal aid schemes for groups that have been historically marginalized.

Florence Ochago, principal legal officer at the East African Community Secretariat, said the sharing of best practices is key to strengthening programs aimed at expanding access to legal assistance to the needy.

“We need to strengthen institutions and explore new platforms to ensure legal aid is available to people who cannot afford services of a lawyer,” said Ochago.

She noted that informal justice systems that are embedded in cultural norms of many African communities could be harnessed to promote dispute resolution at the grassroots level.

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