Friday, November 2, 2012

Thoughts on Justice

At the end of September we had to deal with the legal follow-up for a security incident involving a PCV over the summer. Even as a bystander it was an extremely aggravating and profoundly disappointing experience in many ways. However, throughout the entire ordeal I was awed by the courage and resilience of the affected PCV and absolutely impressed by the unwavering support, encouragement, and tenacious advocacy coming from the surrounding volunteers. Also, once she got involved, the Peace Corps Victim's Advocate in D.C. was very responsive and helped get things moving in the right direction.

One of the most depressing aspects of the experience was reflecting on how insanely difficult it would be for a wronged Senegalese person to pursue justice. Even though the incident happened in Kédougou, all of the legal proceedings happened in Tamba (a four-to-eight hour drive, depending on what village you’re coming from) because the Region of Kédougou has no court system of its own. All proceedings were in French, which would be problematic for all the villagers who only speak Pulaar, Malinké, or other local languages. Most of the officials at the trial were dismissive; it seemed like it was only the absurd insistence of the American volunteers and the perceived weight of United States Government behind them that kept the convicted perpetrator from being immediately released despite having been sentenced to a correctional facility. 

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be for a person from a village, especially a woman, to marshal the resources necessary to press charges, travel to a trial, and see that a sentence was carried out. The most crushingly awful thing that I kept hearing - even from some of the Senegalese legal officials! - was that “this is Africa and you must accept that the system does not work here.”  I will be forever grateful to the Americans who did not accept, and to the Senegalese official who made a few calls to help see that justice would be, albeit somewhat grudgingly, served. Also, more than ever, I am aware that I have had such unfathomable good fortune, to be raised with the belief that justice is attainable, that change is possible, and that people have the power to improve the world, if only one small corner of it. 

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