The Legal Aid Centre of Eldoret (LACE) provides pro bono legal services to persons infected or affected by HIV/AIDS and survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. Each month, LACE advocates represent and counsel more than 100 clients in cases including: land and inheritance issues, gender-based violence prosecutions, defense from debt collection and criminal charges, and family law and defamation claims associated with actual or perceived HIV status.A POSITIVE impact
People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in Kenya are commonly subjected to discrimination and stigmatization. PLWHA often experience gross violations of their basic human rights which range from acts of ostracism to outright denial of property inheritance and transfer of rights, confidentiality and disclosure of results and the infliction of verbal, and physical and sexual forms of abuse. Children are especially vulnerable to human rights violations. Problems often arise with orphans whose parents died as a result of HIV/AIDS. These children are commonly left homeless and vulnerable to all forms of abuse including exploitation and sexual assault.
There are an estimated 1.4 million Kenyans living with HIV (7.4% prevalence rate). Not only does Kenya suffer from a debilitating health epidemic, the nation struggles with the widespread economic, social, and cultural reaction to the disease. This so-called “third epidemic” of HIV raises crucial social, humanitarian, and legal issues that have received minimal attention relative to the support of health based programs and interventions.
LACE was established to treat and prevent – to borrow from the health vernacular – the human rights violations of PLWHA. The program soon found itself overwhelmed by the number of clients in need of legal aid. LACE currently provides legal services to indigent PLWHA, including: education regarding their legal rights, representation in court, assistance with drafting legal documents, and training healthcare providers and community leaders on legal and ethical issues relating to PLWHA.
As a human rights law clinic, LACE works in close association with AMPATH - an organizational partnership consisting of Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Moi University, and a consortium of North American universities led by Indiana University. LACE serves as a critical component to AMPATH’s care system – an onsite referral program able to respond to the legal challenges of persons infected with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. LACE accepts client referrals directly from AMPATH clinical and social services staff. The LACE offices sit opposite of the AMPATH HIV outpatient clinic in Eldoret where over 500 patients are seen daily. Close association with a community-based HIV care provider allowed LACE to rapidly implement and scale legal services. LACE has also partnered with AMPATH to educate care providers and the broader community on the legal rights of PLWHA.
In the post-election violence that swept Kenya in 2008, rape, gang rape, defilement, and other forms of sexual assault were used on both sides of the conflict to terrorize, humiliate, and disenfranchise the opposition. Even though the violence has ended, these crimes are still a daily concern for women and children. The Sexual Offenses Act of 2006 was a major step forward to holding the perpetrators of these crimes accountable, but still police statistics show that five children are defiled and two women are raped each day. That number is likely low. Even as the crime rate falls, the incidence of rape and defilement continues to climb making them the most prevalent crimes in the country.
Domestic violence is also a major concern for women across the country. Reports of domestic violence are on the rise despite deep traditional beliefs that domestic violence is an acceptable way of disciplining your wife - particularly in rural areas. Studies show that between 39 and 75% of Kenyan women have been abused by a husband or partner.
Working closely with the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital-based Center for Assault Recovery - Eldoret (CAR-E), which responds to incidents of gender-based violence, LACE advocates counsel survivors of these crimes and guide them through each step of the criminal prosecution. There is always a familiar face to explain what to expect, to provide support, and to clarify the next steps at every stage. No client is left to face their attacker alone.