SASOD Community Paralegal Services InitiativeThe objective of the initiative is to provide legal support to vulnerable groups who cannot necessarily afford legal representation.
The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is a human rights organisation and movement, leading change, educating and serving communities to end discrimination based on sexuality and gender in Guyana. SASOD implements three (3) key programmes which are described as the 3 ‘H’ agenda: Human Rights, Homophobia(s) Education and Human Services programmes. SASOD’s primary beneficiaries are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
SASOD has won several awards for its human rights and advocacy work. At the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, SASOD became the first and only Caribbean organization to date to win the globally-coveted Red Ribbon Award in Advocacy and Human Rights. The Red Ribbon Award is the world’s leading award in community-based responses to HIV. In 2015, SASOD copped the Guyana Business Coalition on Health Awareness Annual Award for Business Excellence in Partnerships. In 2016, SASOD received the Victoria Regina Award at the Second Annual El Dorado Awards for “work/life characterized by a unique focus on humanitarianism, protection, and/or activism” from the regional, diaspora-based, non-for-profit organisation, The Caribbean Voice.
1. To provide legal support to vulnerable groups who cannot necessarily afford legal representation and to act as mediators, organizing community education and advocacy and to bridge the gap between the formal and often-distant justice delivery systems.
2. To work closely with other non-governmental organizations in the Guyana Equality Forum – a local civil society network for which SASOD is the secretariat – and pro-bono lawyers from CariBono: Caribbean Lawyering for Social Justice to develop an active Guyana network that refers cases, provides pro-bono assistance and brings strategic cases to advance legal gains.
The intention of this initiative is to provide and address unmet needs of vulnerable groups and to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable populations to understand and act on their rights. To address complex rights abuses such as inter-partner violence, societal discrimination, domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and family violence, civil society groups are an invaluable link to accessing justice. As SASOD implements an active human rights documentation system, potential cases for strategic litigation are coming to the fore. This initiative provides an opportunity to link these complainants to legal services in an effort to access justice.
The initiative also aims to increase awareness of human rights by educating vulnerable populations about the local laws, redress mechanisms and opportunities for legal services.
ACTIVITIES DIRECTLY CONNECTED WITH THE COMMUNITY PARALEGAL SERVICES INITIATIVE
i. Targeted outreach exercises and information dissemination: This will comprise visiting recreational and entertainment spots (clubs, bars etc) where key populations socialize. Brochures and other public education materials will be reproduced and distributed.
ii. Conduct workshops in 3 administrative regions (Regions 3, 4 and 10) of Guyana in partnership with local groups and key stakeholders who work with key populations.
iii. Conduct referrals to pro-bono attorneys of the Guyana network of CariBono through the country liaison and focal point who maintains an active roster of willing lawyers.
iv. Hold consultations with key state institutions such as the Guyana Police Force,
Ministries of Public Security, Legal Affairs and Social Protection to sensitize these duty bearers to the human rights of key populations who are historically marginalized.
The main project impacts from the Guyana Community Paralegal Programme are:
i. Bringing resources, training and support directly to marginalized communities.
ii. Integrating robust community engagements with strong, focused support systems.
iii. Fosters strong collaborations between civil society and legal fraternity to advance rights.
The expected results of this initiative include the following:
i. Enhanced relations between the uniformed services and key populations.
ii. Increased access of key populations to the legal system and the likelihood of justice.
iii. Increased knowledge among key populations of their human rights and local laws.
iv. Establishment of an active Guyana network under the U-RAP – led CSJPBLG.
Competencies and Experiences:
Over the past 14 years SASOD has built up strong competencies in providing rights-related services. SASOD’s current cadre of staff and board are highly skilled in human rights law, criminal and civil practice, social work, case management and financial administration. This Programme includes:
1. Joel Simpson is the founder and Managing Director of the Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). He holds Bachelors of law Degree from the University of Guyana. He is a Chevening Scholar with a Master of Laws Degree in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. He has over 14 years’ work experience.
2. Anil Persaud is a distinction graduate from the University of Guyana with a Diploma in Social Work, who is currently completing his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. By virtue of the profession, Anil is qualified as an educator, counsellor, activist and advocate. Anil holds the position of Homophobia(s) Education Coordinator where he documents human rights cases.
3. Paige Cadogan is SASOD’s Finance and Operations officer who brings with her a wealth of knowledge and decades of experience in the field of accounting. Cadogan has worked with a number of companies in St Vincent and the Grenadines, before re-migrating to Guyana.
4. Valini Leitch is SASOD’s Human Rights Coordinator. Leitch has worked for many years in the private sector and civil society. She brings a wealth of knowledge in the areas of resource mobilisation, legislative lobbying, strategic advocacy and monitoring and evaluation.
5. Mishka Puran is an attorney-at-law admitted to practice since 2005 and is the Secretary on SASOD’s Board of Directors. She also serves as the Guyana focal point and the country representative on the regional steering committee of CariBono. Puran is also counsel on SASOD’s legal team on constitutional challenge to Guyana’s laws criminalizing cross-dressing which is currently filed for an appeal hearing before the Caribbean Court of Justice this year.