Last week, Professor Michael Scaperlanda and five OU Law students -- John Clifton, Kathryn Caudill, Sara Hansard, Ryan Hunnicutt, and Katie Magee -- traveled to Uganda as part of the course called Comparative Common Law Jurisprudence: Uganda. Together, they worked with various local groups in land dispute resolutions. As residents of northern Uganda returned to their homes after more than 20 years in refugee camps during war, land disputes arose over what property belonged to which groups and OU Law students had the opportunity to work alongside the residents to produce solutions.
"We reached out to a variety of organizations during our trip including the local Legal Aid program, the International Justice Mission (IJM), Gulu University, and the Christian Lawyer’s Fraternity," said 2L John Clifton. "I went out into the field with both IJM and Legal Aid to interview potential clients and witness negotiations. We worked to research Ugandan law, interview individuals about our tasks, and draft documents that we hope to leave for future classmates or other legal professionals who will continue our work."
Clifton said the experience of cultural immersion in another legal setting forced the group to work to find resources and learn how to work together as a team.
"With Legal Aid, Ryan and I accompanied a local lawyer named Carol about 40-50 kilometers out 'into the bush' to observe negotiations over a land dispute," said Clifton. "Not only were the lawyers and the parties present, but village elders, local leaders, and neighbors all came to weigh in on the problems. While the negotiations were not ultimately successful due to one side’s unwillingness to speak, it was intriguing to see negotiations take place in such a different way from our own."
OU Law students also worked with Gulu University law students to create the documents necessary to provide a safe alternative for Ugandan mothers who typically bring their children to prison with them. The alternative involved partnering with the Saint Monica Girls' Tailoring Centre in Gulu which is run by Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe. Through their work, the students were able to secure space at Saint Monica for the children.
"We saw so many things our justice system takes for granted," said 2L Katie Magee. "Very few children knew their own ages, so it was hard to determine who was a juvenile and who was an adult. The police don't collect evidence, so it is hard to prove a case. We witnessed that most of the justice system is a guessing game, but it's the best the Ugandans can do."
Magee said she and the other students were grateful for the opportunity to make a difference and felt fortunate to be able to share their experiences with other OU Law students. The group is planning a book drive at the end of the year to benefit Ugandan law students.
"During our experience in Uganda, I learned so many things," said 2L Ryan Hunnicutt. "I found that while the facts and locations may be different, the human experience, the problems, the issues, and surprisingly the legal mechanisms are exactly the same. We were able to understand and assist with real problems affecting real people."
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