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.
iPeace values connecting with local communities and strengthening its relationship with community partners and members; its team is looking forward to expanding its reach and increasing the services it provides in a near future.
On 11-16 December 2017, the 5th edition of the Great Lakes Regional Training Programme in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights took place in Kigali. This time, 72 students and lecturers from 24 universities were empowered with knowledge and skills in relation with rules applicable in armed conflicts, and human rights. Among the participating universities, 10 were from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It is the first time since 2013 that English speaking countries have been accepted to join this regional Programme which started focusing on Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.
Students’ research culminated with the production of two memorials, per team, containing arguments supported by relevant provisions of international instruments and case-law. Memorials addressed alternatively and separately the position of the prosecutor indicting the army general, operations commander, and that of the defense lawyer in accordance with the laws and procedures governing the International Criminal Court.The activities of this edition were organized around the theme “Maintaining the Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Period: What protection for Children in the Great Lakes Region?”.
As usual, before coming for a one-week intensive training programme in Kigali, participants spent 3 months researching on the legal qualification of facts involved in a fictitious case depicting various violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. This year’s case was built on a scenario of post-electoral crisis that degenerated to a rebellion led by an opposition leader, who not only lost the elections but also refused to recognize the polls’ results. This rebellion was bloodily repressed by the governmental army with disastrous humanitarian consequences on civilians, including women and children.
In Kigali, participants enriched their knowledge by attending workshops facilitated by renowned experts in the fields of international humanitarian law and human rights. Among these workshops, it is worth mentioning two because of both their technicity and their topicality. The first, facilitated by Dr. Raphael van Steenberghe, professor of international law at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, aimed at helping participants know and understand recent developments regarding the complementarity between international humanitarian law and human rights. The second related to the identification of lex specialis and how it is articulated with other rules governing armed conflicts was facilitated by Dr. Aurélie Tardieu, lecturer at Université de Caen in France. Moreover, participants attended a conference on how international humanitarian law and human rights law complement each other in protecting children in armed conflict period.
To connect theory to practice, students participated in a moot court competition organized in two tracks. The Francophone track, competed by Congolese and Burundian universities, was won by Université de Kinshasa (from DR Congo) after facing in final another Congolese university, Universté de Goma. On the side of the English track, universities from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda faced each other. Moi University won the competition after a fierce pleading against Kampala International University from Uganda in the final.
The bench of Judges in preliminary rounds and in the grand final was composed of people with sound expertise in international law from iPeace partner universities and organizations based in Belgium, Cameroon, DR Congo, France, Netherlands, Rwanda, Switzerland, and Tchad.
Both finals took place in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court of Rwanda in the presence of the Chief Justice, prof. Sam Rugege, who also delivered closing remarks after he handed awards to best female pleaders on both sides. It was the first time that special prizes such as best overall pleader and best female pleader were introduced in the Great Lakes regional moot court competition. In his speech, Chief Justice acknowledged the pertinence of this programme not only in shaping the knowledge and skills or the region’s future lawyers and judges in international humanitarian law and human rights but also in promoting peaceful coexistence.
This edition was supported by the Swiss federal department of foreign affairs, German Cooperation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Commune Plan-les Ouates, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Association québécoise de droit international. Since 2013, 251 the people have benefited from this programme and are now members of the active Great Lakes Network, which regroups academics and practitioners interested in international humanitarian law and human rights in the Great Lakes region. The next edition will take place in Kigali on 9-16 December 2018.
In the framework of its Gateway to Justice (G2J) Project, iPeace organized on Tuesday 26 September 2017 at Mater Boni Concilii Hotel (Huye) a workshop to empower 30 women including members of National Women Council from Gisagara, Huye, Nyamagabe, Nyanza, and Nyaruguru districts. The purpose of the workshop was to equip participants with adequate legal knowledge and skills to address family disputes, child protection and land issues, which appeared to be the top three issues that Rwandans face in the districts covered by G2J Project.
Opening this workshop, Mr. Kagabo Joseph representing the Mayor of Huye District, commended iPeace's legal aid to Huye people. Mr. Kagabo said that access to justice is fundamental for the protection of citizens' rights. That is why it is one of the top items on the agenda of Huye District. He requested the participants to take advantage of the training provided by iPeace's experts and to use the knowledge and skills they receive in preventing disputes not only in their own families but also in their communities. Closing his remark, Mr. Kagabo promised that the district will continue to work closely with iPeace to strengthen access to justice and good governance.
This one-day workshop was organized in three parts. The first part facilitated by Mr. Yves Sezirahiga consisted of taking participants through the provisions of the new Family Law of Rwanda. In fact, since August 2016, Rwanda has got a new law governing family and persons. This law abrogated that of 1988. During his intervention, Mr. Sezirahiga highlighted the new changes brought by the new law, such as the timeframe for birth registration, requirements and procedure to change someone's names, rights and obligations of spouses, conditions and procedure for divorce, etc.
The fourth edition of the Great Lakes Regional Training Programme in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights held in Kigali brought together a total of 30 students and 15 lecturers from 15 public and private universities from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda. They participated in a number of activities including an intensive research, a training seminar, two workshops and a moot court competition. This project lasted twelve months, but the training part for this edition lasted from 12 to 17 December 2016.
The training began with an intensive research on a fictitious case narrating various violations of the rules of international humanitarian law and human rights inspired by the local realities experienced in the region since the 1990s. At the end of this research, the two students representing each participating university submitted two briefs (memorials) defending in turn the position of the prosecutor and that of the defendant of a military commander prosecuted for having committed abuses during an internationalized armed conflict. In addition, all participants attended an interactive seminar on sexual violence in armed conflict led by an ICRC-Geneva expert, as well as two workshops on pleading techniques and the prominent aspects of the fictional case.
Throughout the training activities, there was also a moot court competition between the participating universities. Experts from Belgium, Burundi, Canada, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, the Netherlands, Switzerland, DR Congo and Rwanda sat as judges and evaluators of the above-mentioned briefs. This year, Mrs. Fatoumata Diarra Dembélé, former Vice-President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a former judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), presided the jury of the moot court grand finale that took place in the Supreme Court of Rwanda.
This fourth edition was made possible thanks to the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DDC-Geneva and DDC Kigali Regional Office), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the City of Geneva, Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR – the Netherlands), the Utrecht University (Netherlands), the Société Québécoise de Droit International, the Pro Victimis Foundation and the Kigali Independent University (ULK). It is also worth noting the contribution of the Rwandan government through the availing of the courtroom of the Supreme Court where the final of the moot court competition was held.
The Great Lakes Regional Training Program in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights is an annual project co-organized since 2013 by Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) in partnership with the Swiss non-governmental organization, the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL) for law students and lecturers from public and private universities from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda to strengthen their knowledge in international humanitarian law (rules and principles applicable in period of armed conflicts) and human rights. This project also aims to enhance peaceful coexistence among young people in these countries by offering them a unique opportunity to learn and work together.
Since 2013, 114 students and 57 lecturers from public and private universities in these three countries have benefited from this continuous training which not only impacts the academic and professional aspirations of the participants towards international humanitarian law and human rights but also on the peaceful coexistence of young people in the region.
iPeace provides legal services to 233 Burundian Refugees, survivors of Sexual violence and child abuse
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) partnered with Plan International Rwanda partnered with IPHR to provide Legal Services for Access to Justice to Burundian Refugees in Rwanda. The overall objective of this project was to provide access to public service to Burundian refugees in Rwanda. But more specifically, this project intended (a) to provide free, speedy and quality access to justice for Burundian refugees, especially to survivors of SGBV and child protection incidents; (b) to increase birth registration for babies born to Burundian refugees either in camps or in urban areas; (c) to build the capacity of administrative and justice actors including the police, public prosecution, judges, and local authorities at sector and district levels on forced migration laws and procedures; (d) to empower both refugees and host communities with basic knowledge on human rights, governance, and laws and legal procedures pertaining to refugees, child protection (CP), and SGBV; and (e) to do a strong advocacy for a non-discriminatory treatment of Burundian Refugees by administrative and judicial institutions.
Accordingly, iPeace received and handled 233 cases, including 33 SGBV cases, 26 CP cases, 5 common-law cases (robbery, alimony, etc.), and 169 birth registration cases. This represents an average of 58,2 cases per month and approximately 2 cases per calendar day. As far as SGBV/CP are concerned, 84% of cases were reported from Mahama camp, which is by the way the area hosting the majority of the Burundian refugees population. Similarly, more than 89% of cases related to birth certificates originated from Mahama Camp.
3rd edition of Great Lakes Reginal Moot Court Competition in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights successfully completed
From 7 to 12 December 2016, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) organized in Kigali the third edition of the Great Lakes regional moot court competition in international humanitarian law and human rights in partnership with the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL). The theme of this year was “The Fight Against Sexual Violence during an Armed Conflict Period: What role for local, regional and international actors?”
The capacity of 42 students and lecturers from 14 universities from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda was strengthened through various workshops and conference as weel as a moot court competition which was won by the Université Protestante au Congo (UPC) from Kinshasa. The final of the competition opposed the team of UPC to that of Université de Goma (UNIGOM). In addition to the finalists, the following universities participated in the training: Université du Burundi, Université du Lac Tanganyika, Université Lumière de Bujumura (Mutanga Campus), Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Kinindo Campus), Université des Grands Lacs, University of Rwanda, Université de Kisangani, Université de Mbujimayi, Université Officielle de Mbujimayi, Université Catholique de Bukavu, Unversité Officielle de Bukavu and Univesité Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs.
This training was funded by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, the City of Geneva, Plan-les-Ouates municipality, Pro Victimis Foundation, and International Committee of the Red Cross.
IPDH renforce ses capacités en ce qui concerne Protocole à la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples relatifs aux droits des femmes en Afrique
Du 11 au 13 novembre 2014, Initiatives pour la Paix et les Droits Humains (IPDH) a participé par l’intermédiaire de monsieur Ezéchiel Amani, directeur national d’IPDH en République Démocratique du Congo, a un séminaire atelier de renforcement des capacités dans le cadre de la présentation des rapports étatiques au titre du Protocole à la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples relatifs aux droits des femmes en Afrique organisé à Prétoria en Afrique du Sud par le Center for Human Rights de l’Université de Pretoria, et la Commissaire Soyata Maiga, Rapporteuse Spéciale sur les Droits de la Femme en Afrique de la Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples.
Dans l’ensemble, des délégués de haut niveau comprenant aussi bien les membres des gouvernements que les représentants d’ONG de droits de l’homme de la Tanzanie, de Seychelles, du Zimbabwe et de la RDC ont été invités. Ces délégations, regroupées par pays, ont rédigé des rapports étatiques, conformément aux directives en la matière, qu’elles ont présentés devant la CADHP instituée pour le besoin de la cause. Chaque pays a joué tantôt le rôle de la commission, tantôt celui de l’Etat partie présentateur du rapport et l’exercice était très instructif.
Lors de ce séminaire, les principes directeurs du procédé des rapports d’États sur le Protocole à la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples relatif aux Droits de la Femme en Afrique adoptés en 2009 par la CADHP ont été diffusés et réexaminés, afin de permettre aux participants de s’y familiariser et de faire tout le nécessaire pour que les États puissent honorer leurs obligations en vertu du Protocole. Le séminaire a également abordé le rôle de la société civile dans ce processus.
Entre autres, les matières ci-après ont été étudiées :
(i) Introduction à la charte africaine des droits de l’homme et des peuples et au système africain de protection des droits de l’homme ;
(ii) Le protocole à la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples relatif aux droits des femmes en Afrique ;
(iii) Les droits de la femme en Afrique : vue d’ensemble des progrès et des défis ;
(iv) Etats de rapports étatiques par pays devant les organes des Traités (Nations Unies) et à la CADHP ;
(v) Les lignes directrices pour la soumission des rapports étatiques sur le protocole à la Charte Africaine des droits de l’Homme et des peuples relatif aux droits des femmes en Afrique ;
(vi) Le rôle de la Société civile et des institutions nationales des droits de l’homme dans la préparation des rapports étatiques ;
(vi) La préparation d’un rapport étatique : l’expérience sud-africaine.
Il convient de rappeler que la présentation des rapports étatiques est une composante fondamentale du suivi de la mise en oeuvre du Protocole à la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples relatif aux Droits de la Femme en Afrique (ci-après, le Protocole). L’article 26 de ce Protocole lu conjointement avec l’article 62 de la Charte oblige les États membres à incorporer dans leurs rapports périodiques présentés à la Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (ci-après, la CADHP), des indications sur les mesures législatives ou autres qu’ils ont prises pour la pleine réalisation des droits consacrés. Les rapports des États servent un certain nombre d’importantes fonctions, notamment : l’inventaire des mesures prises par les États parties en conformité avec les obligations découlant du Protocole ; l’identification des problèmes et des obstacles à la mise en œuvre complète du Protocole ainsi que l’opportunité d’un engagement constructif avec la CADHP pour que les États parties puissent bénéficier de recommandations concrètes.
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