For the first time in six years, UCBC hosted the International Justice Conference with UCBC law students and members of the International Association of Christian Jurists (AIJC). The gathering, which took place in March, was the sixth iteration of the conference and the joy at being together once again was evident. CI-USA board member, Christen Price reflected, “It was truly a gift to spend time with the Congolese lawyers, judges, and law students, and witness their courage, determination, and hope.”
The theme, “Seek First the Kingdom of God,” was apt – a call for lawyers to stand against human rights abuses. The eastern region of DRC is currently under a “state of siege” which is exacerbating the already tenuous situation. Law violations by the military have become rampant and a number of lawyers present at the conference have been personally threatened by the military. Being together at the conference was an encouraging reminder that though they face many difficulties, they are not alone – many are called and committed to promoting justice in Congo. As one presenter implored, “[We] must side with the truth, not the oppressor.”
This year’s conference included an emphasis on women in the law, including two female conference presenters. One UCBC law student presented a new student organization called “JI, Junior.” This organization helps integrate students and recent grads into the Justice Initiative with the hope of equipping them to advance and promote justice wherever they may go. The other, a practicing lawyer, advocated for the promotion of gender equality and encouraged women and girls to strive for excellence. Additionally, participants were able to learn from representatives of Justice Defenders, an organization that trains paralegals and lawyers within defenseless communities to provide legal services for themselves and others.
To further advance justice in the community, the UCBC law program will be creating a pro bono clinic in conjunction with AIJC Beni lawyers. One of the conference team members noted, “there is no better current strategy than having the culture witness the case by case changing of people’s lives by Christian lawyers, acting collectively and sustainably in pro bono work to defend human rights.” This clinic will give UCBC law students practical experience in the field and provide tangible help to those in need of legal services.
As support and membership of the AIJC grows, the dream of opening a fourth chapter is slowly coming to fruition. Discussions of another location first began at the last Justice Conference in 2017. AIJC currently operates in Beni, Butembo and Bunia and hopes to move forward with the creation of a new chapter in Goma.
In a context where injustice and human rights abuse continues to threaten civilians, the work of the Justice Initiative and the AIJC is incredibly important. Finally being together after six years was a reminder that those working for justice in Congo are not alone and the work, though difficult, makes a real difference in the lives of the men, women and children they represent.