Mwinji Nambela Siwale, Zambia

About Mwinji

Mwinji Nambela Siwale is a young lawyer with three years of experience in providing legal services to juveniles in conflict with the law. Previously, she served as a legal learner practitioner for the Undikumbukire Project in Zambia and has worked on cases ranging from petty crimes to offenses that carry mandatory capital punishment. In her role, Mwinji has creatively addressed challenges such as delayed trials causing injustice by seeking alternatives to detention, such as bail, for her juvenile clients. She is currently employed as a Staff Attorney for the Undikumbukire Project Zambia.

The Challenge

The project addresses the shortage of lawyers willing to work pro bono to ensure the legal rights of women and girls in conflict with the law, who face injustices including gender-based violence (GBV) within the criminal justice system. It also tackles the plight of illegal immigrants in Zambia, who are charged with offenses related to smuggling and lack knowledge of the Zambian justice system. These immigrants, often facing language barriers, are particularly vulnerable and may be detained in Zambian prisons for extended periods while awaiting trial.

The Innovation: “Hope Project”

Mwinji’s project, based in Lusaka, aimed to: 1) collaborate with police officers to create a referral system for identifying women and girls in need of legal representation; 2) conduct legal clinics in prisons; and 3) make visits to selected police stations. Specifically, the project involved reaching out to prisons to connect with illegal immigrants in detention and handling cases for women and girls facing long sentences or the death penalty, with the goal of reducing their time served or achieving acquittals.

Mwinji’s project and the establishment of a network of 10 women lawyers committed to providing pro bono legal aid raised awareness among many Zambian lawyers about gender-based injustices in the criminal justice system, inspiring more lawyers to take on criminal cases involving women and girls. The project enhanced the chapter members’ professional respect in a male-dominated criminal law community and demonstrated the capabilities of women in achieving their goals.

A key achievement of the project was engaging the 10 chapter members to handle a total of 112 cases involving accused women and girls, surpassing the initial target. This success was facilitated by the Undikumbukire Project Zambia, which acted as a referral link for all prison and police cases. The chapter also utilized the diversity policy framework developed by UP Zambia to divert numerous cases at the police station level. Additionally, Mwinji and her team established connections with several law firms and women’s organizations, which will be valuable for future projects.