Victoria Gao / Sun File Photo

Fifteen Makwanyane fellows are receiving training at Cornell Law through the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide.

June 25, 2018

Cornell’s Death Penalty Worldwide Institute Training ‘A Network of African Lawyers’ To Fight Against Capital Punishment

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Lawyers from more than 13 countries have gathered at Cornell to receive training for representing clients facing the death penalty.

On June 18, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide kicked off its second annual Makwanyane Institute. The institute aims to train capital defenders and prepare them for the intricacies of capital offense trials in many different countries.

Prof. Sandra Babcock, law, founded the DPW in 2011, building off of her previous work with death penalty cases in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Babcock, she had worked in the region for 11 years and wanted to continue the work on a deeper level.

“We provide training to brilliant dedicated lawyers who otherwise have no access to training and how to effectively represent people facing capital punishment,” Babcock said.

The Makwanyane institute, named for the South African Constitutional Court’s decision to abolish the death penalty, was funded in part through a grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. The institute has brought together trainers from around the world that are familiar with the legal procedures of the countries that the fellows are from.

Training sessions focus on both building practical courtroom skills and understanding factors that affect human behavior, such as mental health or disabilities, Babcock said. Fellows are also taught about different ways to challenge confessions obtained through torture.

The countries invited to apply to the institute included Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Many of the countries represented at the institute are from sub-Saharan African, due to the region’s continued use of the death penalty and “lack of access to legal training programs [and] inadequate resources,” according to Babcock.

“Many organizations in the U.S. don’t focus on sub-Saharan Africa. It’s hard to get to [and] there are a lot of challenges involved both in surmounting cultural barriers and the organizational aspects of putting together a training like this,” Babcock said. “It was a natural outgrowth of the work we were already doing in the region and the contacts we had there.”

The institute uses a “train the trainers” model in order to maximize resources. The 15 fellows were selected for their demonstrated work within their respective countries and their strong commitment to the work at hand. One Nigerian fellow from the inaugural institute returned this year as a trainer and has plans to set up training in Nigeria.

Although most of the fellows are from African countries, observers from Pakistan, India, and China are also in attendance this year and will bring the information they learn back to their countries as well.

The institute is a part of the broader international abolitionist movement to abolish the death penalty and strengthens an African movement often overlooked, Babcock said.

“We are creating a network of African lawyers who can support each other and become leaders of the abolitionist movement. Typically when you think of the global abolitionist movement is lead by organizations primarily in Europe and to a lesser extent the U.S.,” Babcock said. “You don’t see a lot of organizations that are based in Africa and are Pan-African.”

The institute also employs law school students and undergraduates, giving them opportunities to learn more about international law and practice. Tate Schneider ’19, a student assistant for the institute, outlined the necessity for international coalitions.

“When it comes to the death penalty on a global scale … [uniform international policy] doesn’t quite exist,” Schneider said. “The institute is working to give all death penalty litigators an equal opportunity and skill set to defend clients on death row to prevent the inequalities that come from differing enforcement around the world.”