The Legal Aid Forum, in partnership with Oxfam and with the financial support of DFID, implemented a project entitled Citizen Monitoring of the Justice Sector in Rwanda which was designed to assess the current framework of interaction between justice institutions and citizens using feedback collected from citizens through ICT, and suggest possible actions for improvement. The project was developed to increase the responsiveness of Rwanda’s justice services towards the concerns of citizens, especially women, regarding the provision of justice services.
Enumerators collected responses from 5, 503 respondents from all 30 districts in Rwanda. The results of this survey showed that Rwandans, in general, provided positive feedback on the legal aid services they have received. However, there are still some areas to be improved.
This is the story of Esperance Nyirumbungiye. Esperance lives in Rugambira Village, Rurenge Cell, Mukamira Sector, Nyabihu District, in the Western Province. She sought justice on behalf of her son after he was murdered.
Esperance’s Search for Justice
Esperance’s son was killed in 2011. She was confined to her home because of a leg injury, so she sent her son on an errand to the local bar. On his way back to his mother, someone threw a rock at him. The rock hit the back of his head, and he died instantly.
Esperance was devastated by the loss of her son. After a period of mourning, Esperance took the matter to the police. The perpetrator was identified and charged. The case was referred to the Gisenyi Primary Court where the perpetrator pled guilty to the crime, and was ordered to pay a fine of nine million Rwandan Francs (9,000,000FRW) as restitution.
When the time came for Esperance to collect the money, she went to the Sector authorities. She was told to take the matter to the lower authorities in the Cell. Esperance did as she was instructed, but was then told to go to a different district, Karongi, in order to execute the judgment against the perpetrator’s land. She was not deterred and was able to travel to Karongi to have the judgment executed.
When it was time to sell the land in order to satisfy the judgment, Esperance was told that the perpetrator was so poor that the bailiffs could not sell his land to satisfy her judgment. But, Esperance had documents proving that her financial situation was just as dire as his. Eventually, Esperance and the perpetrator reached an agreement that he would use his land to pay restitution. Nevertheless, he refused to sell his land, and continued to occupy it. Esperance was still unable to have her judgment executed.
She once again sought the help of the local authorities, but was asked to pay 20,000 in order for the case to be resolved. Esperance had already spent almost two million Rwandan Francs fighting the case and was unable to scrounge up the additional 20,000 . Esperance has still not received a single payment towards the restitution payment she is owed.
Judgment enforcement in Rwanda.
In the Western Province where Esperance lives, individuals had to wait an average of seven months for their judgments to be enforced. Nationally, respondents had to wait an average of eight months for judgment to be enforced. Delays in enforcement could happen for a variety of reasons. In the Western Province, citizens felt delays occurred most often because there are not enough enforcement agents, enforcement agents are biased, losing parties are reluctant to cooperate, and nepotism.
Nevertheless, Rwandan law does not allow for anyone to wait five years or more to have a judgment executed. The law stipulates that the property necessary for the survival of an indigent person and his/her family, may not be seized. However, according to Rwandan law, once enforcement of a judgment has been requested, the judgment must be executed in no more than three months of the date of the court judgment. Enforcement agents are liable for fines of up to 100,000 francs in damages if they fail to execute judgments within this time.
As a result of cases such as Esperance’s, LAF recommends the following:
Instructions from the Ministry should be enacted producing a form to track requests for judgment enforcement. The form should to be filled whenever a person submits a request for enforcement of their judgments and a copy should be provided to the applicant for record keeping and accountability purposes by authorities.
More training is needed for Cell and Sector Executive Secretaries on enforcement of court judgments, especially on seizure and auctioning procedures.
A strong supervision and monitoring framework needs to be put in place to ensure timely and effective enforcement of court and Abunzi decisions. Enforcement of judgments should be included as a part of the performance agreements of non-professional bailiffs and should be evaluated during performance reviews.
A mechanism should be established to allow insolvent parties to pay their debts and allow pending judgments to be enforced. LAF proposes the following solution: Executive Secretaries, who are also responsible for the administration of Vision 2020 Umurenge Program (VUP) and other poverty eradication programs, should be encouraged where possible to employ those with outstanding judgments for a period of time to enable them repay the debt. This program would be available to those who would already be eligible for the VUP program. The debtors’ wages would be divided to allow a portion to go toward payment of the debt and a portion to go towards the debtor for the work performed. No more than 50% of the debtor’s income would be allocated to paying their debt. This will assist in the enforcement of judgments and improve the general condition of the debtor.