Judges sit at a Gacaca court in Rwanda in 2012
Judicial officials from 15 African countries gathered in Kigali this past week at a conference to chart ways of blending formal and community justice systems to create a system in tune with traditional African values.
“About 95 per cent of our people live in rural areas. We do not need the mainstream judicial system to settle our disputes all the time, because most of our disputes can be settled in a traditional way,” said Abdulai Charm, the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone.
According to experts at the conference, barriers to access to formal justice systems include high costs, complexity of legal processes, long delays in court cases, corruption and lack of legal counsel.
“Formal justice systems are often adversarial and do not necessarily provide an inclusive, timely, holistic and restorative solution to litigants,” officials said.
According to rights activists, access is most severely restricted for some of Africa’s most vulnerable citizens – the uneducated, those living in rural areas, and poor people.
Chief Justice of South Africa Mogoeng Mogoeng said limited access to formal justice caused many of the conflicts ravaging the continent.
“When you have an avenue that is accessible to all who have disputes to resolve them impartially, speedily and effectively, before people start shooting one another they would have known where to go. And once the problems are resolved, there is no reason to fight each other,” he said.
“Africa needs this because there is currently no effective medium of ensuring that crucial disputes are expeditiously and qualitatively resolved,” Mr Mogoeng added.
Community dispute resolution methods are hailed for functioning within the customs and practices acceptable in a particular region. Many of the methods focus on restoring harmony, encouraging consensus, and reconciling competing interests.
“The continent has good practices to learn from, like community advice in South Africa, the Gacaca and Abunzi systems from Rwanda, as well as the community mediation and traditional court system in Sierra Leone,” said Sam Rugege, the Chief Justice of Rwanda.
The conference resolved to establish a centre of excellence for access to justice, which will be a resource centre for African best practices.
“The Centre of Excellence will ascertain that the African indigenous knowledge on dispute resolution, restorative justice and other forms of redress are institutionalised and can be developed into academic excellence programmes,” said Andrews Kananga, the executive director of the Rwanda Legal Aid Forum that co-organised the meeting.
Source :- http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke