Chris Behan, right, a professor at the SIU School of Law, teaching a group of prisoners during a visit to Kenya in July.

Chris Behan, right, a professor at the SIU School of Law, teaching a group of prisoners during a visit to Kenya in July. (Photo provided)

December 07, 2023

SIU law professor to discuss justice issues in Kenya

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Christopher Behan, a professor at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law will discuss access to justice issues in Kenya during the Southern Illinois chapter of the United Nations Association’s Human Rights Day celebration on Sunday, Dec. 10. The free, public program is set for 5:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 310 S. University Ave., Carbondale.

In addition to Behan’s presentation, “Rule of Law and Access to Justice Issues in Kenya,” the Carbondale Public Library will receive the chapter’s annual Human Rights Day Award. This year’s award recognizes an organization that provides inclusive services to the community “and goes beyond providing basic services to address the issues of housing, food insecurity, and violence in the community” in addition to “recognizing dignity of all.”

The chapter’s 14th annual event will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948.

Behan will be talking about Justice Defenders, a program “that enhances access to justice by training prisoners to help other prisoners represent themselves in the Kenyan justice system. Unlike in the United States and many other countries, the overwhelming majority of criminal defendants in Kenya do not have access to court-appointed attorneys to help them navigate Kenya’s criminal justice system,” Behan said.

In July, Behan, and his wife, Valery Behan, an adjunct professor in the law school, joined a group of attorneys, law professors and judges from the United States and Kenya to teach a training course on different elements of a criminal trial, including case analysis, opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and closing arguments. The students at Naivasha (Kenya) Maximum Security Prison included prisoners trained as paralegals, prison guards, former prisoners with law degrees and staff attorneys from throughout Kenya.

Behan has been to Kenya four times. In the past 10 years, he has taught trial advocacy courses in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria. In 2021, he traveled to Uganda as a Fulbright Specialist to work with the country’s bar training school, the Law Development Centre, to evaluate its training program and assist in creating teaching materials.

This spring, Behan is taking 16 students to Kenya as part of the law school’s Legal Globalization and Comparative Law program. They will spend spring break in Kenya working with Kenyan law students in a collaborative competition that pairs Kenyan and American law students as partners to prepare for and try a mock trial set in a Kenyan magistrate court.