John Macarthy (@johnmacarthy) of Sierra Leone served as a community paralegal for 14 years, first with Timap for Justice and later with Namati. He died on August 24th, at the age of 57. I’d like to share this remembrance:
I feel I grew up with John Macarthy—not as children, but as people finding our purpose. He was one of the original community paralegals to work with Timap for Justice, starting in 2004. We discovered together the vitality of equipping people to take on the injustices they face. We learned together about how that might be possible, even in very difficult circumstances.
That work became John’s calling. His commitment never wavered. He helped people take on powerful interests—international companies, government officials, chiefs. He found ways to make law real and useful, even when it seemed to be a mirage.
A chief himself, John was an expert in Mende customary law. He insisted that human rights were not an imposition. Human rights are indigenous, he’d say. They’re part of our culture. When men tried to justify abusing women, he’d invoke a Mende saying, Nyahi i yeh ni a mbi ndewe va. “A woman is not a drum to be beaten.”
When he convinced a village to stop expelling people for suspected witchcraft, or when he helped poor farmers to challenge chiefs that sold their land without their consent, he invoked principles of justice from the Mende tradition. In doing so, he kept the culture alive. He helped it evolve from within.
When John spoke, people listened. His tone was calm and kind, but also firm and fearless. Over and over I saw him enter situations where people were angry or afraid; he helped them find reason and courage. He could change the climate with his voice.
For his work, John rode huge distances by motorcycle on rough roads, sometimes under wicked rain. He risked retaliation. He missed meals. He fell sick. At times he went without pay. He never stopped.
John was a joker too. He had a young boy’s sense of joy. He spoke no Hindi, but he could go toe to toe with any Bollywood aficionado. He could recite the classic Sholay from memory. Not just recite it, act it out. Playing every character.
You gave a bit of that joy to all of us John. And you advanced justice. We cannot replace you. But we will carry on the struggle you believed in. And we will love you and remember you always.
@danielsesay shared this and many other tributes from John’s teammates at a funeral in Bo, Sierra Leone on Friday.