Broadening Access to Justice in Rwanda: Analyzing the Opportunity for Public Interest Litigation.

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The purpose of this paper is to analyse the opportunity for Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Rwanda and to suggest a strategy for the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) to take this phenomenon forward in order to benefit the indigent population and vulnerable groups in Rwanda. To do so, this paper analyses standing and amicus curiae (friend of the court) in Rwanda and other countries, as well as case examples on socio-economic rights. Interviews with a number of practitioners (judges, advocates and NGO lawyers) were also conducted.

This paper finds that starting PIL is not an easy task in Rwanda where the standing rules are unclear, advocates and the judiciary unaware, and the political environment unsympathetic. Nevertheless, a majority of interviewees stated that, in their view, the law was open to these concepts being argued before the courts and that the judiciary would take a well-prepared creative approach seriously, some of whom would welcome it. In the case of Rwanda, this paper recommends pushing human rights cases in general, which would help create a space for PIL over time. Supporting PIL in its widest sense, employing strategic litigation and bringing test cases, taking up individuals’ judicial reviews and constitutional challenges, supporting cases of exploitation and abuse, including sexual, and employment rights cases including those of domestic workers, will develop a legal culture where the rights of the poor and disenfranchised are respected. At the same time, it would be useful for LAF to explore the use of other tools for group litigation such as class actions and the collective actions of consumers.

Keywords: Access to justice; Public Interest Litigation (PIL); Strategic litigation; Rwanda.

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