12,678 low-income people have benefited from the free legal service in 2019

Adela Mohammed[1] is a mother of three from Assosa town and runs a farm to earn daily bread for her family and pursuing her dream to expand the farming business on land she inherited from her parents. 

But sadly, Adela began to face her biggest life challenge after her husband suddenly left her leaving her with the children and no money. Adela struggled hard to make ends meet.   

However, things got worse when the rural landholding registration process was conducted in her town. The regional rural land administration authority requested her to present the land registration certificate, which she didn’t have, although the land belonged to her. 

The authority in Assosa town conducted the registration of land as part of the government move to the cadastral system. Adela was told that her husband owned half of the land and she would only get a certificate for her share, the other half. The authority (kebele administration) further informed her that since the person who is entitled to half of the land was not there, then the authorities would have to take half of the land from her, return it to the administration and deposit it in the land bank. 

Stunned by the authority’s decision, Adela said, “I tried to explain that the land has been within my family and was passed on to me and so cannot be denied of my rightful possessions”. I even explained to the administration that farming is my only source of income to support the family in the absence of my husband. However, the kebele administration offered her an option either to take half of the land or to deny her any service from government offices if she continued to claim the rest of the land. What could she do?

Adela needed legal advice and luckily was able to access free legal service run by the Assosa University School of Law with support from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who is one of the Governance and Democratic Participation Program (GDPP)[2] Implementing Partners. The legal service office filed her case in the Assosa Woreda Court. The office offered her free legal consultation, complied her documents and prepared a presentation of the legal argument that there was no legal ground for denial of her possession of the complete plot of land. The office argued that her claim was supported by the Regional Rural Land Holding Proclamation as she had acquired the land-based on succession from her family. 

The court upheld the claim and declared that Adela was entitled to the possession rights of all the land that she inherited from her family. The certificate of landholding right was granted to her which would have been impossible for her without the legal aid advice and support she received from the free legal aid service. 

The office providing legal service under the system of legal clinics had come at a critical time in Adela’s life. She said, “I have benefited from the service as I did not know the law and the legal procedures nor had the resources to pay for the service”. 

Adela is among the 12,678 low-income people who benefited from the free legal service which includes legal advice; writing pleading; case Representation and awareness-raising training in 2019 across the country facilitated by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in partnership with local universities. Having access to free local, legal advice is crucial whenever citizens, particularly those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and want or need to exercise their rights or must deal with legal issues. 

The role of the EHRC and its strong working relationships with the local universities means that there are multiplier impacts. The benefits gained by citizens who access free legal service will be sustained even after the GDPP ends. Practical legal professional skills of university students’ will be enhanced, as this creates an opportunity for solving real cases and meeting real clients while in law school, under the supervision of their lecturers. Moreover, it would enable students to understand the legal issues of their communities, play a role in solving them which would create a sense of emotional fulfilment for being able to provide voluntary, free legal service contributing to the protection of the rights of women, children and other disadvantaged groups who cannot otherwise afford to get the services of a professional lawyer. 

  [1] Name of the beneficiary has been changed for confidentiality reasons

[2] GDPP is UNDP’s flagship program with financial support from Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Norway under a strategic partnership approach.

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