Human Rights Issues and the Need for Lawyers

To choose scholarship recipients for the Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope) program in Honduras, students were required to write short essays describing a problem in their community and how they wanted to use their educations to help overcome the problem. The essays gave us a glimpse into the many diverse problems these communities face. Of particular interest to me were the number of students who wanted to study law to protect human rights.

When I visited Honduras and met the selected students, I was able to learn more about the great need for lawyers. Two general themes emerged. The first is the practice of leaving people accused of crimes in jail until they can afford a lawyer to defend them in court. Even when there is insufficient evidence to bring someone to trial, a lawyer must file papers before they can be set free. One boy, for example, had two neighbors who didn’t get along. One neighbor decided to accuse the other of a crime. Even though there was no evidence, and no one thought the neighbor was guilty, the neighbor must stay in jail until a lawyer files papers. The poor have no money to pay for a lawyer, so they must wait in jail, sometimes for years, for a court appointed lawyer. The neighbor is still in jail. This boy wants to become a lawyer so he can defend those who can’t afford a lawyer.

The other theme revolved around wealthy landowners abusing the rights of the poor. For example, one girl grew up in a rural community alongside a banana plantation. The trees were periodically sprayed by plane with strong chemicals, and animals in the community would die shortly after each spraying. Villagers who complained to the plantation manager would turn up dead. That girl hopes to study soil science to learn organic farming techniques and wants to also study law to protect the rights of poor villagers.