What is a Human Rights Brigade?
The mission of Human Rights Brigades is to empower rural
communities in Panama to overcome the obstacles that often
impede the fundamental human right of access to justice
through legal counsel and educational workshops. Human
Rights Brigades volunteers have the opportunity to gain
first-hand experience working directly with Panamanian
lawyers to provide pro-bono legal consulting to rural
communities. Volunteers will shadow and assist lawyers as
they take on cases with individual families and provide legal
consulting to community members. By mobilizing student
volunteers to connect with these communities on a
family-by-family basis, brigades develop sustainable legal
support systems in the region while decreasing the number
of unresolved legal cases over time.
Human Rights Brigades primarily works with rural
communities that are under resourced and largely unaware
of their own legal rights. Additionally, volunteers provide legal capacity building workshops on various legal concepts to
empower communities through education and action. Human
Rights Brigades also works to establish and train community
action groups, whose aim is to serve and identify the legal needs of the community and to host workshops on fundamental rights while Global Brigades is not present in the community. Between brigades, Global Brigades’ in-country staff works to secure legal outcomes and provide follow-up to the families and community groups.
Student volunteers do not need prior knowledge in Panamanian legal frameworks, as they will be shadowing Panamanian lawyers who will be helping to educate students on Panamanian laws and guiding them through the process of case intakes, referrals, and relevant legal workshops with community members.
Human Rights Project Focuses
Legal Clinics: Access to knowledge of one’s legal rights is often a luxury that escapes many in rural communities, despite its universality as a human right. Many, if not most, have never consulted a lawyer nor understand the benefit of doing so. This issue stems from a notorious history of lawyers in Panama coming to rural communities offering their services for a price, to then never return. Legal clinics offered by Global Brigades combat this issue by providing free legal clinics, where volunteers, with the help of Panamanian lawyers offer legal advice to communities, families, and individuals with unresolved disputes or questions. These clinics are meant to provide no cost access to legal services that were previously denied or unavailable.
Family Law Cases: A consequence of limited access to basic legal rights is expressed in the Panamanian judicial system, where institutional inefficiencies and complications can result in cases going unresolved for years at a time. This results in a highly expensive and time consuming process, that leaves low resourced families unable to cover the costs of a lawyer. Besides the cost barrier, there is a severe lack of legal awareness and nearby professional resources in these communities leaving community members. Global Brigades’ lawyers find and select family law cases to present to volunteers, such as child custody, alimony, divorce, domestic violence, and criminal cases. Volunteers then perform interviews and intake procedures that can be used by the Human Rights staff to resolve the cases that would have been unattended completely or otherwise unresolved for many more years.
Education Workshops: One of the main resources that drives empowerment is education. In order to properly assist community members to overcome the obstacles found within their legal system to combat misinformation and a lack of legal knowledge, volunteers develop educational materials and deliver workshops on a variety of topics, including work contracts, proper filing of documents, research tools and methods, children’s rights, as well as civic duty and responsibilities.
Civic Engagement and Empowerment: Part of the Human Rights brigade will be focused on helping the community establish debate clubs and women’s groups, providing communities with their own resources and tools for civic empowerment in the time between brigades and long after Human Rights brigades exits a community. Volunteers will work in local high schools to teach about the importance of debate and discussion through student led debate clubs. With the adults of the community, volunteers will work to organize women’s groups as a channel for brigader’s education workshops and project perpetuation. With these community action groups, the Human Rights team hopes to promote civic engagement amongst large demographics of the community.
Brigade Length & Logistics
The Human Rights Brigade is for 7-10 days in Panama. Interested Human Rights Chapters will work with a Global Brigades Advisor to select their brigade dates and book their airfare through Global Brigades' travel partners. Each Chapter then fundraises for the program contribution and airfare needed for the brigade. Upon arrival in Panama, Global Brigades staff pickup students from the airport and transport students to a safe and secure lodging facility where they will be lodged throughout the duration of the brigade. Each day volunteers and staff commute to and from the community to provide workshops and consulting. All meals, in-country transportation, coordinators, translators, and supplies are provided during the brigade.