Around the world, 1.1 billion people lack legal identity documentation, such as birth certificates, ID cards, and passports that can help prove their nationality or entitlement to citizenship. Without proof of citizenship, these individuals cannot vote, access health care, or go to school. Some are even left stateless or at risk of becoming so.
Citizenship is a foundational human right but in many countries gaining access to identity documents that prove citizenship can be difficult or even impossible. The process is complicated by lack of information, confusing bureaucratic processes, poor implementation of the law, or sometimes even outright discrimination.
Community paralegal programs have demonstrated that a legal empowerment approach to securing legal identity documentation is effective in countries around the world. Community paralegals help people to understand the laws, navigate tangled bureaucracies, and challenge discriminatory policies.
Namati and Open Society Justice Initiative, in cooperation with UNHCR, have developed a comprehensive guide to expand and strengthen paralegal and other community-based programs worldwide. “A Community-based Practitioner’s Guide: Documenting Citizenship and Other Forms of Legal Identity” draws from the experience of programs in more than 24 countries. It’s designed for practitioners who may be considering adopting a legal empowerment approach to respond to citizenship rights challenges, or for those already working with paralegals who want to incorporate new lessons to enhance implementation.
The handbook uses cases studies, infographics, and tools to guide readers through critical steps such as determining whether a paralegal approach is contextually appropriate, building the right paralegal team, developing case forms and other data collection processes, and involving communities in advocating for national-level policy change.
A number of Global Legal Empowerment Network members contributed their insights, experiences, and tools to the development of this guide. We look forward to further collaboration as we continue the conversation on using legal empowerment to promote citizenship and legal identity documentation around the globe.