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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Gary Haugen and International Justice Mission Profiled in the New Yorker

International Justice Ministries is the kind of organization I tend to be skeptical of. When it comes to the law, good intentions are often worse than useless; few things have such lasting destructive potential as well-meaning but incompetent lawyering. However, my admittedly arms length observation of IJM has left me, at least initially, impressed. Samantha Power, known for her own work on issues of genocide and human rights, has a profile in the New Yorker: The Enforcer: A Christian lawyer’s global crusade.

Haugen, who was educated at Harvard and at the University of Chicago Law School, is a forty-five-year-old evangelical Christian who believes that Christians have generally ignored the Biblical injunction to “seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” In 1997, he created the International Justice Mission to offer legal services to the poor in developing countries. Haugen believes that the biggest problem on earth is not too little democracy, or too much poverty, or too few anti-retroviral AIDS medicines, but, rather, an absence of proper law enforcement.

Haugen rather astutely sees the connections between economic performance and the legal system of a given locale. I think many doing work in third world countries see a robust American-style justice system (not to overlook our own shortcomings) as something of a luxury good, achievable at a certain per capita income, but hardly feasible in a place where the necessities we take for granted are missing. Haugen sees it as an essential economic input – “Without investing in the rule of law for the poor, none of the other investments we make will be sustainable.”

In 2007, Transparency International published a report underscoring the extent of the problem. Seventy-nine per cent of people surveyed in Cameroon, and seventy-two per cent of Cambodians, reported paying a bribe to obtain basic services in the previous year. The study also confirmed Haugen’s view that the poor are more likely to pay bribes than the wealthy, often to avoid harassment. According to a report published by Afrobarometer, a public-opinion research group, only fifty-three per cent of people surveyed in subSaharan Africa expressed confidence that senior government officials would be brought to justice if they committed a serious crime. In Kenya, sixty-four per cent deemed most or all of the police corrupt. A World Bank study of twenty-three countries found that the poor saw police “not as a source of help and security, but rather of harm, risk, and impoverishment.”

My favorite line appears near the end.

During a break in the proceedings, Rogo asked Haugen if he would like to speak with Mutungi. Haugen went up to the bench where the detainees were squeezed together. He spoke to Mutungi for a moment; then the men clasped hands, knelt, and prayed for several minutes. When Haugen returned to his seat, he told me, “We prayed to God for Duncan’s freedom. Prayers help. Prayers and a lawyer help more.” A week later, after fifteen months in jail, Mutungi was acquitted and set free.

Haugen isn’t without his critics. The issues surrounding prostitution which Powers dwells on at length are deservedly controversial.

Samantha Power, The Enforcer: A Christian lawyer’s global crusade, New Yorker, January 19, 2009.

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