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.
Further, the case analysis shows that 85.9% of the survivors of SGBV/CP were women. Whereas just 49.7% of the total number of cases related to birth certificate concern female babies while the number of their male counterpart is slightly higher (50.3%). This is an indicator that both boys and girls are given equal opportunity regarding their birth registration.
From the total number of SGBV, CP, and other cases cases handled by iPeace in four months, 64.1% were definitely closed either by a final judgment, mediation or without further action due to the disappearance or un-traceability of the survivor or the alleged perpetrator or both. Whereas the remaining cases are still pending before judicial organs at various levels in respect of 24.3% of SGBV cases, 19.3% of CP cases and 40% of other cases.
Concerning late birth registration, iPeace succeeded to obtain final court’s suppletory judgments of birth certificates for 84% of applicants. For these cases, it remains to just take the issued suppletory judgments to the Sector for the establishment of their respective birth certificates.
In fact Rwanda has become home for more than 140,000 refugees. Among those refugees, Burundians fleeing pre-electoral violence constitute the biggest batch which has recently crossed the borders to Rwanda. Approximately 70,000 Burundians are reported to being hosted by Rwanda between March and July 2015 in various locations including Kigali city, other urban areas such as Huye, and Mahama camp.
The mere fact that refugees have fled their home country leaving behind most of their properties, friends, jobs, etc. in order to seek shelter in another country of which they know neither the culture nor the laws make them very vulnerable in many respects. In this respect the daily life of a refugee is full of challenges.
Usually, the most pressing challenges are food security, family shelter, and access to health care. But living in the society, the interaction between refugees or between refugees and the host community certainly creates a situation where the refugee’s life is not only threatened by hunger, lack of shelter, or disease. As human beings, refugees are subjects of rights and obligations in the host country. Accordingly, they need full enjoyment of their rights as enshrined in national laws and international conventions as much as they must be accountable before competent organs when they not fulfill their obligations.
Among those rights, it is worth mentioning right to access to justice, and other administrative services such as civil status office for birth registration. On the one hand, promiscuity in the camps, despair, and the high likelihood of indigence in a foreign country exposes refugees to child abuse, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) or other common law crimes as either survivors or alleged perpetrators. As survivors, justice must be done for refugees by bringing to justice the offenders. As suspects, refugees need to be assisted before competent administrative and judicial organs in order to make sure that they have a fair trial, and - in case they are convicted – they are detained under strict respect of their fundamental rights. On the other hand, birth registration is the foundation for the enjoyment of other fundamental rights as it is the legal recognition of the newborn as a member of the community. Indeed, the registration with the civil status office of the place where a newborn is born plays a crucial role in deciding on the newborn’s identity at birth and in the future, and – consequently – on the rights s/he is entitled to and the extent to which s/he can enjoy his/her basic rights such as right to a name and nationality, right to protection in the juvenile justice system, right to education, right to health, etc.
The majority of refugees in Rwanda live in camps with limited interaction with judicial and administrative organs able to provide them with quality services. Those who are in the proximity of these organs lack either the knowledge, the financial or legal capacity to successfully introduce their cases to the competent authorities. Most of them are limited by language barrier and/or knowledge of the Rwandan justice system. This state of affairs only worsens refugees’ already-fragile situation.
This project is a demonstration that legal issues that refugees are facing are real and urgent. They need strong preventive measures and timely protection decisions. Given the time frame, iPeace has achieved an outstanding result. However, much more still need to be done.
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