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Interview: Walter Aguma

Why is an education in law so important to you?

Law to me is an integral and rigorous area of study and profession, which has been building and transforming my qualities, knowledge, character, and personality into one that is able to tackle a wide range of social issues and challenges that directly affect my society. For instance, the insights gained through the study of law can be effectively applied to confront issues of inequality and discrimination, and to devise strategies for safeguarding human rights and preventing the violence often associated with these pressing challenges.

Pursuing law has been very significant to me from the day I joined the course. I have developed skills which have contributed to my abilities to interpret complex information and social issues with result-driven thoughts and approaches; these skills inter alia include research skills, forming sound and meaningful arguments around social, political, and economic matters, and the ability to write concisely and communicate with intelligence, integrity, and confidence. This has eventually developed my abilities across different areas of life and thus been part of my self empowerment that I can easily extend to the community around me.

Moreover, the field of law, both as a course of study and a profession, is of immense importance to me because it has enriched and expanded my understanding of the breadth and depth within the domains of humanities and sciences. I have been able legally advise a few of people who have approached me with legal related issues and matters, for example a right to court bail, police bond and its redress in case it is abused and I have been able to personally advise and settle a few cases of domestic violence in my community given the knowledge I have acquired. Therefore, I believe that by the time I finish my four year course and acquire my practising certificate, I would be able to provide more practical solutions and advice to the community in the area of law.

Lastly, my pursuit of a legal career will enable me to directly and personally engage in assisting my community in addressing the social challenges and issues that impact them. As I believe myself to be an individual whose personality is centred in empowering and seeing those around me live in peace and appreciate life free from conflicts and violence, discrimination and human torture, I would count this as part of my contribution to my community, and law is a feasible way of achieving this dream.

How did you decide to pursue your area of study and practice?

The key to my decision was my passion and dream to pursue a law related course and profession. Knowing and observing lawyers standing up and representing different individuals and protecting rights of those in disadvantaged positions, exposed to injustices and human rights violations, motivated me to pursue law.

Growing up in my community, and my country, I observed how victims of torture, and various injustices in society are unable to access legal services.They cannot have any redress, due to ignorance, lack of opportunity and platform to be heard, or inability to afford a lawyer.This situation in my community and my country inspired me to pursue law so that I am able to help such marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

By and large, my passion to pursue law has been rooted in the growing injustices and violence and abuse of human rights in my community and country at large. I highly believe that knowledge in law will enable me close gaps by helping my community access and benefit from the protection the law provides, including supplying pro bono services, giving civic education, building self esteem of victims of violence, and ensuring that the perpetrators of human rights violation are held accountable by invoking legal sanctions. These are some of the ways that I can give back to the members of my community by ensuring that their voices are heard and they can afford to access justice.

What are some major lessons you have learned about how your area of study relates to violence and atrocities prevention, if any?

To begin with, law itself is an array and tool of control and prevention of violence and atrocities in society. Law provides interventions in the form of statutory instruments. For example, in Uganda, we have various Acts which serve as a basis to control acts of violence, like Children's Act, Divorce Act, Domestic Violence Act, and the constitution among others. As a learning and prospective lawyer, my duty is to interpret and apply these laws to ensure that victims of violence and atrocities are accorded the justice they deserve by relating the law to the right which has been violated and the perpetrator punished according to the provisions of the law. These interventions include criminal punishment and deterrence of batterers, rehabilitation of batterers, and protective interventions designed to ensure the safety and empowerment of victims.

In the fourth year of my studies, legal research is a requirement for the award of completion of law course; this literature in the field of law helps to evaluate, unearth and highlight the (1) devices of violence, (2) its perpetrators, (3) how society has been affected by the various forms of violence, and (4) probable systems that could have been put in place to combat the same. Moreover, the literature usually comes with recommendations to different stakeholders, which aid the process of violence prevention.

It is evident in my community that inadequacy of law over time has had adverse consequences and far reaching effects. The majority of the community is ignorant about their rights, and even if a minority is aware, they may not be able to easily access help or fully understand the procedures involved in attaining justice for the violence suffered. The community and family unit may have experienced high levels of violence, primarily due to ignorance. In some cases, individuals may engage in violence without realising the gravity of their actions, while victims may not realise that they have been subjected to violence. Since the law itself is consolidated, in some cases, individuals may engage in violence without realising the gravity of their actions in a single statute and thus may not be easy for the community to have access to or even understand them. However, through my pursuit of law and active involvement in community-based sensitization strategies, I hope to address these challenges by increasing awareness and knowledge, and individuals will be better equipped to identify instances of rights abuse or violence against them. Furthermore, they will become familiar with the appropriate channels through which they can seek redress for these grievances.

The study of law and its relationship in addressing violence and atrocities is dynamically interrelated as the law responds to violence and atrocities prevention; these areas of violence include; domestic abuse, gang violence, and terrorism. Studies show that in Uganda at least 51% of women will experience violence in their life time, 56% of women in Uganda aged 15-49 reported having experienced physical violence while 22% had experienced sexual violence. Therefore, studying law helps me learn and understand in depth the category of those highly prone to the violence and the probable measures of how they can be protected through the law.

I have also learned and observed that a good number of activists against violence and atrocities committed by the state and some individuals are mostly from the legal fraternity; this arises from their ability to easily detect acts of violence and their applicability in law. The study of law gives me a foundation and knowledge to participate in such activities that are aimed at prevention of violence and atrocities in my community.

How do you plan to use your education to contribute to violence and atrocities prevention in your community, if at all?

My desire has always been to protect those whose rights have been violated or abused and those who cannot afford legal services or have an opportunity to be heard. Upon the completion of my four year law course and one year of post-graduate diploma in legal practice, I intend to provide pro bono services to those whose rights have been violated and represent them before the courts of law to ensure that justice is served to them.

I also intend to conduct advocacy for prevention of violence and atrocities as well as protection of victims of violence through writing a book and articles, conducting campaigns against violence, and where resources permit, using the media as it is a great tool and strategy towards violence prevention in the local community.

I hope to empower my community with legal knowledge of their rights through providing civic education and conducting mass sensitization as these initiatives will help raise awareness on violence prevention.

The above plans may be best implemented through a collective effort and in an attempt to have this achieved, I intend to register and operate a Community Based Organization (CBO) with the main objective of violence and atrocity prevention and protection of rights in my community.

How do you plan to use your education to promote peace in your community?

As a lawyer, I am able to serve in the capacity of a mediator. I therefore intend to use this knowledge to support peace processes through local dispute resolution and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) where conflicts occur in my community.

I also intend to participate and advocate for activities and policies that promote basic transitional justice systems in my community, which may include reconciliation of families, clans or individuals where acts of violence arise; this will help in rebuilding fragmented relationships, transforming and empowering affected societies and individuals, thereby preventing recurrence of violence.

In conclusion, my pursuit of law is intended to aid me in extending a helping hand to my community to see that those who suffer injustice are not left unattended to; I wish to use my knowledge from law to advocate for the rights of the people in my community and ensure that justice is not only served, but must be seen and served irrespective of status. While the poor have been victims of the unfair judicial system as they are unable to pay lawyers, justice has often favoured the rich; this is a virus that must be hard-fought in the community as unfair judicial systems can also be a factor to increased cases of violence and atrocities between the arms of government (state) and the affected individuals and society.

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