By Roseline Oghnebrume
Lawyers Alert in partnership with UNAIDS Nigeria, brought together human rights lawyers under the auspices of Coalition of Lawyers For Human Rights, COLaHR, on the 28th and 29th day of October 2015 at Kanem Suites, Utako Abuja to interact with People Living with HIV (PLWHIV), People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs), Female Sex Workers (FSWs), Sexual Minorities towards provision of free legal assistance and legal literacy.
The Coalition of Lawyers for Human Rights (CoLaHR) which consists of Volunteer Lawyers across 23 states in Nigeria has as its mandate the provision of free Legal Assistance and Interventions for Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups in Nigeria.
This event was aimed at bringing Members of CoLaHR and Members of Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups to get to know one another to ensure justice for all and to create awareness of relevant law as members of CoLaHR have been finding it very challenging connecting with Vulnerable Groups since the Coalition was formed. It was also a forum to increase the visibility of CoLaHR and to build confidence and trust between the Vulnerable Groups and Lawyers.
At the event there was an official launch of the CoLaHR website (http://www.colahr.org), CoLaHR help line (08026826761) and email (colahr.nigeria@gmail) making it easy for the Key populations and vulnerable groups to reach the CoLaHR members promptly when the need arises. Ramaroson Mianko representing UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Bilali Camara, emphasized the importance of the website stating that it was created to facilitate the protection of Human Rights and also to serve a resource base. Informative, Educative and Communication materials (pamphlets and posters) explaining rights and where to go when one’s fundamental Human Rights are abused were developed and distributed to Key and Affected Populations during the meeting to take home and also distribute to the grass roots and the larger community towards possible validation and mass circulation afterwards.
Mr. Kunle Adeniyi, representing of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) expressed his delight with the passion being exhibited by the participants but also cautioned that the forum cannot fully settle the issues of the law as it relates to Human Rights as the Law is constantly existing. He congratulated UNAIDS, Lawyers Alert and CoLaHR for a job well done and for the official launch of the website.
The Executive Director of INCRESE, Dorothy Akenova expressed her joy at the launch of CoLaHR website and stated that she had never been more happy working with Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS. Most participants expressed the feeling that hitherto were not comfortable in the same room with Lawyers as they always had the mindset that no one understands them and the society at large always discriminates against them. They thanked Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS for organizing the meeting especially with members of CoLaHR volunteering to provide Legal Assistance to them.
Barrister Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers Alert commended and appreciated his learned colleagues who have offered to give themselves and their time to the Vulnerable Groups to protect and offer pro-bono legal services when their rights have been infringed.
At the end of the 2 day event, an effective networking and trust building between the Lawyers and the Vulnerable Groups was enhanced and agreed modality between the Vulnerable Groups and members of CoLaHR on reaching out when in need. The participants also learnt about the common violations faced, knowledge of their rights and knowledge of the legal needs of key populations and vulnerable groups.
The members of the Coalition agreed on the following: There should be a permanent staff for CoLaHR, Legal fund for CoLaHR be established and administered by Lawyers Alert, Members of CoLaHR should be trained on Human Right practice, More Lawyers should be trained to increase the number of Lawyers under CoLaHR, There should be a meeting with critical stakeholders and bodies, The need for specialization by CoLaHR members where necessary and the need to have periodic meetings.