Mississippi Law student gets experience in Uganda

Uganda has its challenges. Ali Robertson, a 2L at The University of Mississippi School of Law, is learning this first-hand.

For instance, some of the country’s cultural norms include issues like domestic violence, property grabbing and martial rape, of which there was previously no prosecution. Also, when a woman’s husband dies, she has no legal claim to the property where her family lives. Nearly 30 percent of women in Uganda have been victims of property grabbing, where men forcibly take a woman’s property using violence and threats of death.

Roberston is doing a year-long externship with the International Justice Mission, or IJM. That organization is based in Washington, D.C., with 18 field offices in developing countries. The organization’s goals are to strengthen the criminal justice system and rescue victims of slavery, violence and other forms of oppression.

Roberson found out about the opportunity while participating in the law school’s Child Advocacy Clinic, according to a story on the school's news web site. She applied for the position through the school’s for-credit externship program. “When the opportunity arose, I’ve wasn’t too shy to grab onto it,” she said. “I applied, but knew there was a one-in-a-million chance I’d get selected.”

So much for those long odds. Robertson was selected as a legal intern and moved to Kampala, Uganda, in January. As a legal clerk for the field office’s director, she conducts research on issues involving violence against women and children to help teach attorneys how to best represent victims of violence and slavery.

“I have done a lot of collaborative case work, where we dig into problems to see where the issues are and what causes them,” she said. “There is a focus on policy so we can create new laws to establish cultural norms.”

In partnership with Pepperdine Law School, Roberson worked on a plea bargaining project, the Sudreau Global Justice Program Prison Project, in Ugandan prisons. IJM worked as counsel for guilty prisoners and advocated on their behalf.

In some cases in Uganda, it can take up to six years before the accused get their day in court. The project resulted in successful plea agreements for 190 cases.

“We did this in order to help clear the large amounts of backlog in the Ugandan judicial system,” Roberson said. “This program allows innocent people who are being held in prison to have their day in court sooner.”

Robertson's dad was a medical malpractice attorney, which inspired her to go to law school. She majored in psychology at Ole Miss. Her goal is to help people, she said. 

She will reside in Uganda until July, but her travels will not be complete. She will join her field director on a reassignment in Bucharest, Romania, to establish a field office in Eastern Europe.

“Romania has issues with human trafficking, and there is a need for case referral pathways, aftercare for victims and a way to ensure that basic needs are met, including counseling,” Roberson said. “We’ll be figuring it out from square one, and I’m very excited about that.”

Roberson has been documenting her externship through her website https://www.livingintentionali.com/