Borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are among the busiest in the world in terms of informal cross-border trade. It is reported that about 50,000 people cross the Petite Barrière border post between Rubavu and Goma to trade foodstuff and basic services on a daily basis. Between November and December 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) and Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe (PFTH) identified about 6,500 women who permanently rely on informal cross-border trade through Bukavu/Rusizi, Goma/Rubavu and Kamanyola/Bugarama border posts as their main source of income. All of these women have been involved in informal cross-border trade for 2 years at least with a capital of less than 50$. Every day, when they cross the border on both directions to buy or sell goods, these women face various challenges including payment of non-gazetted taxes, sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of their goods, etc.
This was the case of Marie-Rose Mukambakuriyemo and Adela Nyirasinayobye, two Rwandan women selected by their cooperative “Indashikirwa” to sell their members’ chickens in one of Bukavu’s markets. They crossed the Ruzizi-1 border on 18 December 2020 with 46 chickens worth about 460$. When they arrived at the market, Mr. Takis – a representative of a Bukavu-based association of poultry sellers – denied them from entering the market and confiscated all their chickens. He alleged that, as foreigners, Rwandan women are not allowed to do retail business in DRC. They are supposed to sell in gross to their Congolese counterparts who are allowed to retail in local markets.
Fortunately, Marie-Rose and Adela had just attended a workshop organized by Pro-Femmes for leaders of women informal cross-border traders’ cooperatives a couple of days before. During the workshop, Adela and other women were informed about the Legal Aid Clinics set up in the framework of ‘Empowering Women in Informal Cross-Border Trade in the Great Lakes Region’ (EWICBT) Project on both sides of the DRC/Rwanda border to provide free and quick support to women cross-border traders who are victims illegal and unfair treatments during their business. So, they immediately contacted Pro-Femmes to complain about what had happened. Without delay, Pro-Femmes referred them to iPeace’s legal aid team positioned a few meters from the Ruzizi-1 border post. After listening and ascertaining the soundness of the claim of Marie Rose and Adela, iPeace legal officer invited Mr. Takis to tell his version of the story. After long discussions and involvement of a Congolese border official, Mr. Takis was requested to return all the 46 chickens to Marie-Rose and Adela. He was also reminded that his status as the president of a local association does not give him power to deny access to the market to other people nor to confiscate their goods. In case of any claim or concern, he should refer to competent authorities.
“Almost every day when we cross to DRC, we expect to face some kind of harassment either from local authorities, police, border officials or our fellow traders. Since COVID-19 outbreak, the confiscation of goods by the heads various associations has become frequent. As foreigners, we don’t know where to take our claim, and some of us do not even speak Kiswahili. That is why we end up paying a lot of money to get through. I am happy that this time I was able to recover all my goods swiftly and without paying a single dollar”, said Marie Rose after she sold her returned chickens. “I would like to thank iPeace and Pro-Femmes for establishing their offices next to the border. The fact that some of their staff in DRC understand Kinyarwanda made it easier for me to clearly explain the issue. I have been crossing the border for many years, it is the first time I am able to talk to an official without being humiliated. Usually when you take the risk to complain to Congolese authorities, it takes long before your case is solved and you must pay a lot of money – sometimes above the value of the disputed goods – before your claim is settled. For that reason, most of us give up on our confiscated goods to return home. Now that I know there are people to help us quickly and for free, I feel like my confidence in pursuing my business has increased.”, added Adela. In the DRC, the multiplicity of services at border posts blurs the system and puts women cross-border traders at the mercy of shady people, including public servants.
Marie-Rose and Adela are among the 11,679 women in informal cross-border trade and their husbands who are direct beneficiaries of the EWICBT project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to improve safety, security and enabling environment for cross-border trade while increasing income and social economic welfare of women who do informal cross-border trade between DRC and Rwanda. The comparative advantage of this project consists in the simultaneous implementation of identical activities on both sides of the RDC/Rwanda borders, which allows women from each of the two countries to be equally protected when they cross the border to conduct their trade activities. This project’s activities are implemented by Pro-Femmes in Rwanda and iPeace in DRC through 30 June 2022.
On 17 July 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) provided food and non-food items to 70 teenage mothers to help them cope with COVID-19 effects they are currently facing alongside with their babies. This relief activity is a helping hand to teenage mothers to whom iPeace provides free legal aid services. This activity started with 50 teenage mothers identified as most vulnerable by local authorities in Muhima and Gisozi sectors (Kigali). Each of the beneficiaries received about 60 kilos of various items including sugar, salt, rice, beans, maize flour, porridge flour, cooking oil, face masks, bar soaps, baby diapers, female hygiene pads to name but a few.
Nzamukosha Jeannette, one of the beneficiaries, was very happy to receive this support. She said “I was impregnated by a boy who promised to buy me a cell phone. He did not give it to me and denied that he did know me. Ever since, I am struggling alone to raise up my daughter. I don't have a job and I live on petty chores. The outbreak of COVID-19 has strongly affected my life, and I was afraid I could lose my child because of hunger. But I am very happy that iPeace has thought about us. These items are most welcome, timely and will help us a lot”.
On her hand, the officer in charge of social affairs at Gisozi Sector, commended iPeace for selecting their sector amongst other different sectors in Kigali for this relief activity. She added that this action is a huge support to the efforts of the Government of Rwanda in mitigating the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on poor and vulnerable people. She took that opportunity to urge the beneficiaries to make good use of the given items in the best interest of their kids.
This relief activity is carried out under the framework of iPeace's Rapid Response to Covid-19 Project in partnership with GIZ-Rwanda. According to Mr. Paulin Muhozi, the Country Director of iPeace, COVID-19 has been having negative impacts on the entire World, and poor teenage mothers are at higher risks together with their babies. He said “Besides the free legal services that iPeace provides to vulnerable teenage mothers, it is paramount and human to think of their economic situation in these tough times of the pandemic. That is the reason we are now offering these items to the mothers to support themselves and their children in terms of food and sanitation.”
The distribution in Kigali comes a week before a similar activity targeting an additional group of 20 teenage mothers in Gisagara District.
On 1st July 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) notified the Attorney General of Uganda about a case this organization filed on 29 June 2020 before the East African Court of Justice against the Attorney General of Uganda for denying lawyers trained in Rwanda from enrolling and practicing law in Uganda. This case stems from the decision rendered by the High Court of Uganda on 13 may 2020 where M. Andrew Bataamwe was ruled ineligible for enrollment as an advocate in Uganda because he holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from Rwanda, considered as a country practicing civil law system.
According to Dr. Elvis Mbembe Binda, the Legal Representative of iPeace, this ruling is based on a legal provision of the Ugandan Advocates (Amendment) Act, 2002 that is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community. He said: “Through the Treaty and the Common Market Protocol, EAC Partner States including Uganda committed to mutually recognize the academic and professional qualifications granted, experience obtained, requirements met, licenses or certification granted, in other Partner States as a way to facilitate the free movement of workers from one country to another. In relation to legal professionals, the Republic of Uganda committed to remove all restrictions in its laws by 2010. Therefore, any provision in Ugandan laws subjecting legal practice in Uganda to the obtaining of a degree or diploma from Uganda or from a ‘Common Law’ country is a violation of the EAC Law”.
Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan are member states of the East African Community. The Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community promotes the free movement of goods, persons, workers, services and capital between the partner states without any kind of discrimination. But the implementation of this Treaty and its protocols has been encountering resistance from Partner States since a while following tensions between some of them.
For iPeace, this case is filed within its public interest litigation framework that the organization uses to advance human rights and equality, or raise issues of broad public concern. iPeace considers this case as a way to remind Partner states their treaty obligations and to ensure that EAC laws are effectively implemented across the Community for the benefit of all East Africans. Although this case is about the freedom of establishment of lawyers, the ruling of the East African Court of Justice will have an incidence on the implementation of the free movement of workers in general and on the enjoyment of related freedoms and rights enshrined in the EAC Treaty that many Partner States tend to overlook.
The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is a treaty-based judicial body of the East African Community tasked to ensure adherence to law in the interpretation and application of and compliance with the East African Community Treaty of 1999. It is headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania.
iPeace lance un projet pour aider les femmes impliquées dans commerce transfrontalier informel entre la RDC et le Rwanda
Avec l’appui financier du Royaume des Pays-Bas, Initiatives pour la Paix et les Droits Humains (iPeace) a, en partenariat avec Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe (PFTH), lancé officiellement le 11 mars à Goma, Chef-Lieu de la Province du Nord-Kivu, le projet d’autonomisation des femmes impliquées dans le commerce transfrontalier entre la RDC et le Rwanda. Baptisée conférence des partenaires stratégiques, la cérémonie de lancement a mis autour d’une table les institutions étatiques (gouvernementales et provinciales), les organisations de la société civile et les organismes internationaux dont les activités portent sur le commerce transfrontalier dans la Région des Grands Lacs.
En effet, Le commerce transfrontalier informel devient de plus en plus une source d'emplois, de revenus en devises et de bien-être socio-économique pour les pays en voie de développement. Ce commerce joue un rôle crucial pour assurer la sécurité alimentaire, pour la survie quotidienne de milliers de ménages et pour la coexistence pacifique entre les populations de la région des Grands Lacs. La frontière entre la RDC et le Rwanda est parmi les plus fréquentées d'Afrique en ce qui concerne le commerce transfrontalier informel. Il est rapporté que plus de 5 000 personnes traversent quotidiennement la frontière entre la RDC et le Rwanda dans les deux sens pour échanger des produits alimentaires de base tels que le lait, les tomates, les légumes, les œufs, les fruits, les céréales ou les légumineuses ; ou des services comme la garde d'enfants, la coiffure, le blanchissage et l'entretien du jardin. Cette activité est principalement exercée par des femmes (83% des commerçants) pour qui ce commerce représente leur principale source de revenus.
Malgré les efforts remarquables des gouvernements de ces deux pays pour faciliter les échanges commerciaux, il existe encore des défis énormes auxquels les petits commerçants transfrontaliers font face au quotidien. C’est ainsi que depuis décembre 2019, iPeace en partenariat avec Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe grâce au soutien financier du Royaume des Pays-Bas exécute le projet « Autonomisation des femmes impliquées dans le petit commerce transfrontalier informel dans la région des Grands Lacs » pour contribuer dans l’amélioration de l’environnement du commerce informel transfrontalier entre la RDC et le Rwanda. Alors que PFTH mettra en œuvre les activités du projet au Rwanda, iPeace est en charge de la RDC.
Ce projet vise à contribuer à l'autonomisation socio-économique des femmes qui font le commerce transfrontalier entre la RDC et le Rwanda. Cet objectif sera atteint en améliorant leur environnement de travail et en renforçant aussi bien leurs revenus que leur bien-être social et économique. Pour ce faire, le projet repose sur l'amélioration du cadre juridique et institutionnel, l'accès des services d'aide juridique, l'élargissement de l'accès aux services relatifs à la santé et aux droits sexuels et reproductifs et le renforcement de leur capacité entrepreneuriale et financière. Il cible les femmes impliquées dans le commerce transfrontalier informel et leurs maris ainsi que les autres acteurs publics et privés qui interviennent d’une façon ou d’une autre dans le flux commercial aux postes frontaliers de Goma/Rubavu et et Bukavu/Rusizi.
Gallérie photo de la conférence
A Batch of 90 Students from East and Central Africa Training on Armed Conflicts and Human Rights Laws
8-14 December 2019, the 7th edition of the Great Lakes Regional Training Program in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights took place in Kigali, Rwanda. This was organized by Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) in partnership with its Geneva-based partner the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL) under umbrella theme : “The protection of victims of crimes committed during armed conflict period in the Great Lakes Region : Stakes, Challenges and Opportunities.”
A total of 91 students and lecturers from 28 universities (6 from Burundi, 7 from DR Congo, 5 from Kenya, 3 from Rwanda, 4 from Tanzania, and 3 from Uganda) were empowered with knowledge and skills in IHL and HR. Each university was represented by 2 students and one lecturer.
As in each previous edition, the training program was both theoretical and practical. The theoretical part started with the International Conference on the 70 years of the Geneva Convention in Africa and the 10th anniversary of the Kampala Convention. Held at Kigali Marriott Hotel on December 9, 2019, it was attended by 160 participants including delegates from 28 universities, experts and other guests. The question at the center of this conference was: "What complementarity between international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law? "
To answer this question, experts from various backgrounds, each with enriching personal experience, made ample presentations which enhanced participants’ knowledge in IHL and HR. Among these presentations, it is worth mentioning: ‘New Types of Conflicts and Conflict Classification’ by Dr. Jérôme de Hemptinne (University of Geneva in Switzerland), ‘Complementarity between IHL and HR with regard to the use of force in Non International Armed Conflicts’ by Dr. Antoine Kaboré (Burkina Faso Bar Association), ‘The protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa’ by Dr StefaanSmis (Vrije Universiteit Brussels in Belgium), and ‘The protection of people living with disabilities in armed conflict’ by Dr John Wamwara (Moi Université in Kenya).
After the conference of December 9 which officially launched the 7th edition of the Great Lakes Regional Training Program in IHL and HR, the next two days, from 10 to 11, were devoted to workshops for the theoretical component and to advisory panel and the first two rounds of Moot Court Competition for the practical component.
During these two days, richfull topics were discussed to enrich the knowledge of the participants. Among these topics, some were discussed exclusively for coachs, especially two methodological seminars on the "Teaching of International Criminal Law" and "Teaching of International Human Rights Law".
These methodological seminars aimed to update those who teach International Criminal Law and International Human Rights Law in each reprsented university.
As for the practical part, the teams carried out research for three months to understand all the contours of the problem posed in the practical case, entertaining a troubled and conflicting situation in the imaginary state of BENKADI. It all started with electoral disputes that degenerated into an armed rebellion, which was bloodily repressed by the govern-mental army leading to thousands of civilian casualties.
Students participated in the pleading competition which began with an advisory panel before experts. For the moot court competition, participants were split into two circuits, Anglophone and Francophone. Congolese and Burundian universities formed the French-speaking circuit while those from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya formed the English-speaking circuit.
At the end of the preliminary rounds, the University of Kisangani and the University of Lubumbashi (all from DRC) qualified for the Grand Final in the Francophone circuit, while Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda) and Catholic University of Eastern Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) made it to the final of the Anglophone circuit.
In the courtroom of the Supreme Court of Rwanda, the English-speaking and the French-speaking finalists pleaded in turn before a jury made up of experts from universities and partner organizations of iPeace based in Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada , in DR Congo, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Rwanda, and Switzerland. The University of Lubumbashi won the francophone circuit and Catholic University of Eastern Africa the Anglophone circuit.
In addition to the team trophies and individual prizes awarded to the best according to the categories, all participating universities each received a large batch of works on international law intended to strengthen their respective libraries. In total, 255 books were distributed to participants.
iPeace établie en Belgique pour un plaidoyer stratégique auprès des institutions de l'Union Européenne
C'est le 27 mai 2019 que les Statuts d'Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace-Belgium) ont été publiés dans Le Moniteur Belge pour sceller la constitution de notre organisation soeur comme association sans but lucratif de droit belge.
Cette organisation a pour but de contribuer à une paix durable dans la région des Grands Lacs à travers l'éducation aux droits humains et à la bonne gouvernance. iPeace-Belgium rejoint ainsi la Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights basée aux Pays Bas comme des organisations d'appui en Europe aux projets que les bureaux nationaux d'iPeace-Burundi, iPeace-RDC et iPeace-Rwanda abattent au quotidien. Basée dans la capitale de l'Union Européenne, iPeace-Belgium est le bras stratégique de la grande famille iPeace pour mener ses activités de plaidoyer auprès des preneurs des décisions au niveau européen pour un impact durable et rapide.
Le travail en synergie de ces organisations va, à n’en point douter, impacter de façon durable la vie des hommes, femmes, enfants, jeunes et vieux de la région des grands lacs longtemps meurtrie par des conflits armés cycliques, des violations récurrentes des droits fondamentaux et la faiblesse avérée des institutions étatiques dans certains pays.
Plus de détails dans nos prochaines lignes.
In seven days, 90 students and lecturers from 30 Law Schools based in Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were trained on ‘The Issue of Child-Soldiers in the Great Lakes Region: What Repressive Measures?’ on 9-15 December 2018 in Kigali. This training was organized by Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace), an organization that strives for sustainable peace in the African Great Lakes Region through human rights and good governance education, in partnership with its Geneva-based partner the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL) with the aim to empower university youth and their lecturers with knowledge and skills in international humanitarian law and human rights.
In fact, it should be reminded that since 1990s the African Great Lakes Region is experiencing grave violations of Human Rights (HR) and recurrent disrespect of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL). These violations peaked to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, innumerable cases of rape and other hateful crimes in the DRC and Burundi, and massive child conscription in Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda without overlooking the bloody post-electoral crisis in Kenya in 2008. While it is worth praising the efforts done by the international community in preventing and punishing these crimes, it is obvious that the principal responsibility in this matter lies on the shoulders of the States where these crimes are committed. In terms of repression, this responsibility involves the enactment of adequate laws, but above all the availability of competent and well-trained judicial personnel. Yet most of universities in the Great Lakes Region do not provide relevant curriculum to address this issue. Only a handful of universities offer some hours for IHL and/or HR law courses. Often students and their lecturers do not have enough time to carry out extensive research or to discuss cases involving violations similar to what happens in the region. As the previous editions, the 6th edition of the Great Lakes regional Training Programme in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights intended to bridge this gap.
The activities of the training were threefold. First students were involved in a 3-month intensive research on questions raised by the fictional case. This year’s case was about post-electoral crisis that degenerated into a civil war against the background of constitutional term manipulations by Mrs. Diogo Magni, president of the fictitious Republic of Zamaland. During the civil war both the army and rebel groups were accused of recruiting under-age persons to face war casualties as well as attacking civilians and other protected facilities such as hospitals, places of worship, etc. Students’ task was to understand and analyse the case to qualify these violations in order to establish responsibilities and to suggest the best applicable legal instruments.
Secondly, students were involved in a moot court competition where teams representing each of the universities faced two others successively as the prosecution team and the defence team. The bench was composed of experts – mainly university professors and practitioners - in IHL and/or Human Rights. The aim of the moot court competition was to strengthen students oral and pleading skills to prepare them to their future lawyering profession. The moot court competition was conducted in two tracks. The English track comprised University of Nairobi, Moi University, Kenyatta University, Strathmore University from Kenya; Makerere University, Bishop Stuart University, Kampala International University, and Nkumba University from Uganda; University of Dar-es-salaam, Muslim University of Morogoro, Mzumbe University, and Ruaha Catholic University from Tanzania; and University of Rwanda and University of Kigali from Rwanda. The French track featured Université de Kinshasa, Université de Mbujimayi, Université de Kindu, Université de Kisangani, Université Mariste du Congo, Université Officielle de Bukavu, Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs and Université de Goma from DR Congo, as well as Université du Burundi, Université du Lac Tanganyika, Université Lumiere de Bujumbura (Kinindo Campus), Université Lumiere de Bujumbura (Mutanga Campus), and Université de Ngozi from Burundi.
Moi University won the English track after a fierce final against the University of Rwanda. On the other hand, Université de Goma won the French track vis-à-vis the Université de Kinshasa.
Thirdly, participants attended various workshops and panel discussions addressing topical issues related to international humanitarian law and human rights. One of the biggest events this year was the international conference organized on 10 December 2018 in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. About 160 researchers, students, policy-makers, CSO representatives and practitioners discussed the implementation of this important instrument 70 years after its adoption in Paris in 1948.
Overall, the activities were organized in a way that allows students to interact as much as possible to learn about others coming from different countries. In addition to networking activities, all participants visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial as a way to understand the consequences of a heinous crime such as genocide. As fostering social cohesion is one of the pillars of this training, participants joined the Great Lakes Network that currently gathers 357 alumni of the programme composed of students, lecturers and international experts who have participated in in any of the editions of the Great Lakes Regional Training Programme in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights since 2013.
Left to right: Mr. Paulin Muhozi (Country Director of iPeace - Rwanda), Mr. Chris Mburu (Senior Human Rights Offiecr - OHCHR), Dr. Irinel Cocos (Chief of Party - USAID-DIU), Dr. Aimé Karimunda (President - Court of Appeal), Mrs. Madeleine Nirere (Chairperson - National Human Rights Commission) and Mr. Eugene Anangwe (Moderator) during one of the panels.
The 6th edition was supported by the German Cooperation (GIZ Rights-Based Program), the République et Canton de Genève, Commune Plan-les-Ouates, USAID, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Société Quebecoise de Droit International, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The 7th edition will take place on 8-14 December 2019.
Rwanda is known internationally for its cleanliness and its strong stance against using plastic bags. In 2008, Rwanda enacted a law banning the importation, production, use, and sale of plastic bags. Rwanda’s audacious ban, however harsh it may be, seems to have been effective. Numerous international environmental agencies have praised the prohibition for helping clean up the streets of the country, especially Kigali.
Rwanda aims to be the first country globally to eliminate all plastic waste. Rwanda’s push for sustainability is driven by its ambitious goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2020. Recently, the Ministry of Environment has tabled a draft law which seeks to ban single-use plastics in Rwanda to cabinet. The plastics that will be affected by the new law include some plastic bags, which were not affected by the 2008 legislation along with plastic straws, utensils, plates, and disposable cups. Plastic bottles could also fall victim of the proposed law, according to officials. If Rwanda introduces this new law against single-use plastics, it will be the second country in Africa, after Seychelles to restrict the use of single-use plastics. Aligning with the United Nations Environment Programme which pushes for "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Countries all over the world struggle with the disposal of plastic waste as most plastics are made from fossil fuels like crude oil, which contribute to climate change and take over 450 years to break down. International Environmental law has developed in response to emerging awareness of and concern over issues like waste disposal that impact the entire world. Yet many governments, especially those in the developing world, still lack the funds to create jobs in sanitation to clean up waste, recycle, and deal with the influx of plastic waste. The introduction of a draft law against single-use plastics will go a long way in eliminating waste and cementing Rwanda's "deliberate push" to preserve the environment, said Faustin Munyazikwiye, Deputy Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA). Which showcases how the Rwandan Government is encouraging policies that minimize environmental impacts and focus on long-term sustainability.
Moreover, these proposals are in line with the Rwandan constitution which states that "every citizen is entitled to a healthy and satisfying environment." The Constitution also outlines each citizen's responsibility to "protect, safeguard and promote the environment". Plastic pollution is a big threat to world waters and marine life, as well as negatively impacting the food chain, polluting the surrounding environment, and impacting public health. According to the Environment Minister, Dr. Vincent Biruta: “Single use plastics are damaging our rivers, wetlands, and farmlands. They also pose a threat to our health. Like all rubbish, plastic waste blocks drains and waterways”. It’s clear that plastic waste has become an environmental catastrophe that we can no longer ignore. Rwanda’s progressive push for harsher restrictions regarding the use, importation, and production of single-use plastic is thus indispensable. There have been remarkable environmental benefits since Rwanda prohibited polythene bags over a decade ago. Banning single-use plastics will therefore be another step forward in the fight against climate change, showcasing to the world that a pro-environment stance by governments is feasible.
Traditional African methods of conflict resolution exist within a particular cultural context and have been practiced for extended periods of time, evolving within African societies, rather than being a product of external importation. Their role in seeking peaceful solutions to local disputes is unquestionable. Traditional methodologies are built around concepts of mediation, restitution, conciliation, restoration, and compensation. They are rooted in the economic environment, socio-political, cultural and historical contexts of societies allowing them to be responsive to local realities. The Rwandan Abunzi reconciliation system is one of the many successful examples of home-grown solutions to dispute mediation and conflict resolution that is based off of traditional concepts of justice.
The word ‘Abunzi’ can be translated into ‘those who reconcile’ or ‘those who bring together’ (from the verb kunga). Traditionally, Abunzi were men known within their communities known for their integrity as mediators and were asked to intervene in the event of conflict arising. To this day, Abunzi committees draw off of these traditional conciliation practices and play a central role in settling local conflicts in Rwanda. Currently, the submission of disputes to ‘Abunzi’ committees is a mandatory preliminary precedure used for resolving a large number of disputes prior to cases being referred to the formal court system. In fact, parties to a civil dispute are required to submit that dispute involving matters whose monetary value does not exceed amount of money fixed by law prior to the filing of a case with the court of first instance, i.e. the Primary Court. Firmly established throughout the country there are presently 2,564 mediation committees with over 30,000 practicing ‘Abunzi’ in operation. Reflecting the Rwandan government’s commitment to facilitating access to justice for its citizens, the conciliation process through ‘Abunzi’ is free, accessible and participatory.
The ‘Abunzi’ are chosen on the basis of their integrity and mandated by the state to handle local cases within a certain monetary value. Article 141 of the 2003 Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda revised in 2015 sets up the ’Abunzi’ committees with the responsibility of conciliating parties in conflict with the aim of consolidating national unity and peaceful coexistence among Rwandans. The ‘Abunzi’ committees, which exist in every cell and sector, are elected by their community in theaim of allowing for local ownership that promotes community participation. The ‘Abunzi’ are a clear example of the synergies between the state and local grassroots methods of conflict resolution. These conciliation committees are creating space for ordinary citizens to participate in public processes, such as justice delivery and governance reform. Rwanda’s decentralized approach to justice is not only accessible, but also affordable. Essentially opening up democratic spaces for various actors to exercise their agency in a constructive manner. Responding to the overburdened modern court system in Rwanda, the ‘Abunzi’ system of conciliation has helped to address the question of access to justice by ordinary Rwandans, who might not be able to afford to participate in the formal litigation justice environment.
iPeace maintains a strong relationship with local ‘Abunzi’ and encourages its clients to seek peaceful conflict resolution through the processes before ‘Abunzi’. The majority of our cases that reach local ’Abunzi’ committees are resolved without further action having to be taken within the formal court system. These traditional institutions have complemented the state, which is oftentimes too overwhelmed and under-resourced to be able to offer effective justice in a timely manner. The ‘Abunzi’ conciliation restorative approach helps people to address their conflicts without resorting to litigation and other retributive approaches.
Traditional conflict resolution institutions often aim for the restoration of broken relationships. The punishment of perpetrators is not their priority. The law N° 37/2016 of 08/09/2016 determining organisation, jurisdiction, competence and functioning of ‘Abunzi’ committee actually prohibits ‘Abunzi’ giving punitive sentences. Hearings gain compliance mostly because of a combination of conciliation and state-backed threats, as Abunzi can request the services of the police when witnesses and parties fail to cooperate with the conciliation.
Besides resolving the conflict, a vital aspect of the traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution in African societies is their capacity to involve members of the public and to build a sense of community through engaging and participative methodologies to resolve disputes. Usually the resolution of conflict by traditional institutions is done in the presence of family, community or tribe members, allowing for the construction and restoration of the notion of belonging and communality. Abunzi committee sessions are open to everyone, including the family members of the disputants and members of the public. When compared with the retributive system of the modern courts, the ‘Abunzi’ system showcases the values and principles of decentralisation of power, communal participation and consensus-based decision making.
Traditional institutions of conflict resolution are part of the evolving modern civilisation and should no longer be perceived as simply isolated rituals occurring in remote rural villages and townships. Traditional institutions have become a part of the modern post-conflict state, hence the notion of ‘hybrid’ political orders. African mechanisms for conflict resolution are unique, context-specific, and responsive to the justice needs of societies. As Africa continues to develop and strengthen its political institutions, attention ought to be drawn to ensure that these traditional methodologies are preserved and incorporated into modern governance systems. The ‘Abunzi’ conciliation system is a distinct example of the benefits of merging traditional context-specific, cultural methodologies in order to address modern day issues that the state and its citizens face. Therefore, it is important not only to give due recognition to such institutions but also help to facilitate increased collaboration between the traditional and modern institutions of conflict resolution throughout the continent.
Access to justice is critical to ensuring that people are able to fully understand their rights and how to protect them as citizens under Rwandan and International Law. Many people, especially those living in rural areas, are impoverished and unaware of their human rights. As a consequence, they are unable to afford legal services whereby they can be advised of their rights and the systems that are in place to protect them. Thus, iPeace’s Gateway to Justice (G2J) Project core objective is to fill this gap.
In the five districts iPeace works, the most common types of disputes are land related disputes which typically involve inheritance (izungura), gifts of land (umunani), informal marriage unions and land transactions. According to the World Bank, land related disputes are prevalent and increasing in Rwanda. As land pressures in Rwanda are extremely high due to the country’s high population density, land-related conflicts comprise 70-90% of disputes being heard by the courts.
The Rwandan government has embarked on a wide-range of reforms that aim to quickly and fundamentally change the ownership, use, and administration of land within Rwanda. These reforms focus on formally documenting land ownership, which brings latent, competing claims to the forefront. Albeit, at the same time these positive legal reforms are providing stronger rights for women, orphans, and other marginalised groups within the country.
Despite significant land tenure reform programs, many Rwandans have limited understanding of their rights and how those rights can be exercised and enforced. According to a USAID commissioned report, the lack of understanding is particularly relevant to the women that these legal reforms seek to ultimately protect, resulting in perceptions of bias, fear of community mistreatment, and groups not readily availing themselves of local services. Complex family relationships further complicate inheritance and family land allocation, reducing already modest parcels to very small landholdings. In addition, the rapid rate of land formalization, a lack of clarity and information regarding land rights, incomplete knowledge for exercising those rights, and inaccessible or ineffective land dispute resolution mechanisms oftentimes exacerbates these tensions.
This week for example, the G2J team handled a case of a woman whose husband passed away, and thereafter a son of the deceased claims to have been given the land left by the deceased through a will. The surviving wife’s name was not included in the will. He has consequently chased the surviving spouse from the family land and claims ownership rights over it. Her case is currently being handled by our team. Under Rwandan law, the surviving spouse has the right to inherit her deceased husband’s land, whether there is a will or not. This is just one of seven new cases that iPeace has received regarding land disputes this week.
In order to attend to these types of cases, iPeace’s outreach team has been in the field working with community leaders and members to provide a safe space to discuss land related issues; allowing participants to break down barriers through exchange and discussion of common interests. These dialogues help increase the understanding of land issues that individuals and communities face, whilst at the same time encouraging a search for community-driven solutions. In turn, these discussions provide important insights about land-related issues that can inform broader policy debate, providing the government information to make more informed and more responsive land policies.
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