PILIWAThe Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA) is a regional movement of lawyers driven by social justice to serve threatened communities.
- Convening an annual regional gathering of public interest lawyers.
- Giving grants to hire Legal Fellows and undertake courageous legal actions.
- Legal research and technical advice on strategic litigation.
- Solidarity and support to threatened members of the network.
Annual PILIWA Meeting
PILIWA is first and foremost a professional association – a community of like-minded legal practitioners and advocates who believe that law is meant to serve social justice and the public interest. At our annual gatherings, participants from the eight PILIWA countries learn about new topics in advocacy, international law, and litigation skills, share experiences, and make collaborative plans.
The inaugural PILIWA meeting, in 2016, was held in Monrovia, Liberia. Last year, we gathered in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
PILIWA has two grant programs for its members: Small Grants that jumpstart strategic litigation projects, and Legal Trainee Stipend Support Grants that assist members to hire new legal talent and recruit new lawyers into the practice of public interest law.
Through its Small Grants Program, PILIWA is funding cutting-edge legal work, including:
- Scientific research into the human health impacts of gas flaring in Nigeria and gold mining in Ghana
- Training and mobilization of a civil society response platform to fight cases of land grabbing in Niger
- Detailed land mapping and litigation over illegal expropriation in Liberia
- Fact-finding and case development related to a massacre in a mining town in Guinea
The two PILIWA Public Interest Legal Fellows for 2017-18 are:
- Daniel Fofanah, a graduate of Fourah Bay College Law School in Sierra Leone. Daniel is posted in Kono District with the Network Movement for Justice and Development, where he is helping them to design a legal program and prepare for strategic litigation in the mining sector.
- Owen Odion Agbonifo-Ezomo, an experienced Nigerian barrister and Ph.D. student in Public Law at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. Owen is posted with Chima Williams & Associates in Benin City, Nigeria, where his principal responsibilities entail developing strategic litigation on behalf of tens of thousands of fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed by a 2011 oil spill.
Technical Advice and Collaborations
PILIWA is supporting the Mano River Union Natural Resource Rights and Governance Platform to develop a regional litigation strategy to counter corporate influence over land and natural resources in West Africa. PILIWA members are collaborating on novel legal theories to hold states and economic actors accountable for human rights, land rights, and environmental abuse.
These collaborations have been supported by numerous external partners, including:
- The Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA)
- La Clinique d’expertise juridique et sociale (CEJUS) at the University of Lomé in Togo
- The Seattle University School of Law International Human Rights Clinic
- The Sciences Po Law School Clinic in Paris, France
- HLS Advocates at Harvard Law School
- The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law
- Inclusive Development International
Solidarity and Support to Threatened Lawyers
When Alfred Brownell and his staff at Green Advocates International were threatened with wrongful arrest and detention by the Liberian government, the PILIWA network was part of the effort to protect them, raise awareness of their plight, and seek to have the charges against them overturned.
PILIWA has led the effort to protect Pastor Evaristus Nicholas, the spokesperson for Egbema Voice of Freedom, a community organizer who leads his people’s fight for justice in Aggah. Pastor Nicholas has been threatened on several occasions by people claiming to work for the oil company, NAOC.
PILIWA also provides funds that can be used in emergency situations for its members and other community rights defenders in the West African countries where we work.
Article on the PILIWA Annual Conference
The Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA) is a professional network of West African lawyers, legal practitioners, and other advocates who use law to promote social justice. We share a commitment to using the law to protect the rights of vulnerable individuals and communities and enhancing their ability to shape their own economic future. We are spearheading the transformation of the legal profession in West Africa to ensure that lawyers work in the public interest rather than just in the interest of the powerful few.
To achieve its mission, PILIWA has among other things established an annual conference to allow the members of the network to meet, share experiences and develop new legal and socio-political strategies to better promote and defend the rights of communities and ensure social justice in West Africa.
The annual conference is a space for communication and development of strategies to strengthen the network. PILIWA members meet once a year in one of PILIWA's member countries. It allows members of the network to discuss the cases they are working on, the progress made and the challenges encountered. This allows members to share their knowledge and experiences, reflect together on how to address challenges and more clearly identify opportunities for collaboration.
The conference offers members of the network trainings on various human rights themes which allow them to learn different theories of change and different approaches to advocacy and strategic litigation. These trainings not only reinforce their passion for social justice but also sharpen their expertise on issues of environmental rights, land grabbing and all related rights, corporate due diligence standards, resettlement standards, mining standards, strategic litigation etc.
Network members use the conference to also propose appropriate strategies for the future of the network. To this end, one of the successes that has emerged from the conferences is the collaboration around a legal strategy to create systemic change in West African human rights jurisprudence. This nine-country strategy consists of filing cases both internationally at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice and also domestically before national courts to highlight the mismanagement and responsibility of States in relation to mining operations. The aim is not only to seek justice and compensation for communities affected by human rights violations caused by the extractive industries, but also to encourage ECOWAS to examine closely the degree of compliance of its countries members in respect of their obligations under international law.
Additionally, it is hoped that these efforts will help to change national and regional policies to prioritize the interests of West African communities that suffer violations and abuses committed by multinationals. The lawyers of the network, French and English speakers, collaborate together on their respective cases and complaints filed at the level of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
From these annual meetings, the idea of making PILIWA an institutional and independent entity was also born, with its own constitution and operating structures with a view to ensuring effective participation and collective ownership by the members. From this institutionalization of PILIWA, was also born the idea of creating a national PILIWA chapter in each country in order to increase its actions and impact.
To this end, a document stating the vision, missions, principles, theory of change of PILIWA was developed and unanimously approved at the 5th annual conference held in Abidjan in February 2022. During this meeting, the members of the network conducted as assessment of the successes of PILIWA over the past 5 years as well as its setbacks and also developed a country-specific strategic plan that will dovetail into a broader strategic plan for the PILIWA network. This strategic plan document will make it possible to better direct PILIWA’s efforts, coordinate its actions, and increase the visibility and impacts of the network. Another topic that was discussed during this meeting was the enforcement of the decisions of the ECOWAS Court of Justice by ECOWAS member countries. Indeed, members of the PILIWA network discussed the challenges faced in enforcing these judgments in favor of communities. Considering the unwillingness of ECOWAS Member States to execute judgments, strategies for using regional and international mechanisms to force the enforcement of judgments were the subject of intense and interesting discussions at this meeting.
In conclusion, the annual PILIWA conference allowed the network to grow in terms of membership, expertise, strategy etc.
Want to work with us?
We are building a regional professional community of lawyers.
We have an ecosystem of lawyers and other experts
who collaborate with communities to defend communities’ rights
and pursue their own vision of development