Andrews Kananga, Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum.
The Legal Aid Forum (LAF) has appealed to the Government to consider exempting victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) from paying court fees when filing their cases with courts of law.
The Legal Aid Forum is a non-governmental organisation bringing together 36 national and international organizations that provide or support legal aid services to the country’s poor and vulnerable population.
Reacting to the recently gazetted Ministerial Order determining court fees in civil, commercial, labour, administrative and criminal matters, the Executive Director of LAF; Andrews Kananga said that although Rwanda has committed to provide support to victims of SGBV by providing them judicial and prosecution services, charging them fees to file with courts may discourage most of them from reporting these cases.
In the new Ministerial Order gazetted on November 2, the article specifying the people exempted from depositing court fees was scrapped and moved to the law relating to civil procedure.
In the civil law, the article stipulates that only a destitute with a certificate of indigence issued by competent authority, the Government, except its corporations with legal personality; children represented by destitute persons and representatives of children who file for damages in criminal cases related to child defilement are exempted from paying court fees.
To break down the fees, a person lodging a complaint in the Primary Court is charged Rfw10,000, in Commercial or Intermediate Courts, the complainant is charged is Rwf 20,000, in High or Commercial High Courts, the amount rises to Rwf40,000 while in the Court of Court of Appeal, the charge is Rwf50,000.
Speaking exclusively to The New Times, Kananga said besides discouraging the reporting of SBGV cases, the court fees are also in also a violation of Article 8 of the Maputo Protocol which Rwanda is a signatory to, that provides for active access to judicial and legal services, including legal aid support.
“Most of the victims and survivors of SGBV are indigent and vulnerable. To help them fully access justice, SGBV victims and survivors should be exempted from paying court fees like it was in 2014,” he said.
Kananga also reminded that the Kampala declaration signed after the Fourth Ordinary Summit and Special Session on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in 2011, States parties including Rwanda committed themselves to improve access to justice and protect victims or survivors of SGBV.
“In its points number 8 and 11, the States committed also to support victims or survivors of SGBV to access judicial or prosecution services. Removing all cases of SGBV from the list of cases exempted from paying court fees is not in line with that commitment,” he said.
Kananga also touched on the issue of refugees who according to article 12 of Ministerial instructions determining the management of refugees and refugee camps, have a right to access to justice and legal representation.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Rwanda is home to over 140,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
He pointed out that because of their exclusion from those who are exempted from paying court fees, lawyers are frequently requested to pay court fees.
He reminded that this is in contravention of article 16 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees signed in Geneva in 1951, to which Rwanda is a signatory that exempts refugees from paying court fees and instead requests that they are accorded free access to courts and legal assistance.
He added that the proof for indigence or vulnerability required by the law and accepted by courts so far is provided by local authorities which do so based on Ubudehe social categorization which refugees do not access.
“Refugees cannot be classified in Ubudehe categories. They only have proof of registration and it can’t replace the certificate of indigence. Not providing them the exemption from paying court fees is also in breach of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,” he said.
Activists weigh in
Annette Mukiga, a Gender and Development Specialist, said that requesting victims to pay legal fees will take the achievements made a few steps back.
“You cannot encourage victims of GBV to report these cases and then impose charges. This is mostly problematic especially because most of the female victims are financially dependent on men. We already have challenges in the area of access to justice and legal aid but these charges will definitely take us a further few steps back,” she said.
Sylvie Nsanga, a Women Rights Activist told The New Times that there are still challenges for people seeking justice, especially the poor.
She reminded that preaching the anti GBV gospel will not work unless easy and harmonized processes that will enable women, especially the poor, to seek justice without any challenges are given a chance.
“I have met people who tell me that they were not able to report a case because of basic things like transport fare or because they could not make a phone call. That should not happen. The system should be built in a way that there are no challenges especially in terms of basic needs in this area,” she said.
Source : The New Times
Link : https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/lawyers-make-case-gbv-victims-refugees