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Security and Justice Democratic Republic of Congo

Finding justice far from the courthouse

Where should people turn for justice when the state is far away? This question is relevant to millions of Congolese citizens living in poor rural and remote areas, who may be unable to reach distant courts, or afford the services of a lawyer. The question was debated during a recent event organized by Cordaid and partners in Kinshasa.

(Congolese people seeking justice from a local provider. © Cordaid)

On 9 December, Cordaid and partners convened a strategic dialogue in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to discuss ways to ensure justice for all and the rule of law when access to the formal judiciary is limited. This event marked the occasion of Human Rights Day 2019, and stressed how customary and informal justice providers could contribute to redressing and ultimately preventing human rights violations.

Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms

“Without effective delivery of justice, the nation cannot progress,” said DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Mr Célestin Tunda Ya Kasende, during the dialogue. “That is why it is important that we support alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, and harmonize the modalities of their functioning, as envisaged in DRC’s national justice system reform policy.”

DRC Minister of Justice Célestin Tunda Ya Kasende, at the policy dialogue in Kinshasa. © Cordaid

In the Congolese context, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (or “MARCs” in French) include a wide variety of customary, informal, indigenous, and localized institutions and procedures for dealing with grievances and settling disputes. While these ‘everyday justice providers’ are prevalent across the country, they are particularly relevant in rural and remote areas where the state’s presence is limited, and strongly linked to processes of reconciliation. New legislation promises to entrench the role of MARCs in order to expand access to justice more broadly.

Dutch Ambassador Robert Schuddeboom speaks at the policy dialogue in Kinshasa. © Cordaid)

The Netherlands’ Ambassador to DRC, Mr Robert Schuddeboom, noted: “Many Congolese living in the deep Congo do not have the financial means to face the costs required to bring a case to modern justice. Their only recourse is to bring cases to traditional or informal justice providers.”

“Without effective delivery of justice, the nation cannot progress.”

Mr Célestin Tunda Ya Kasende, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice

The Kinshasa dialogue was attended by more than 50 representatives of DRC government, key international stakeholders, legal professionals, and civil society activists. It drew on and was informed by a new report, published by Cordaid and ODI, that offers concrete recommendations for policymakers and practitioners engaging with everyday justice providers.

During the event, Cordaid staff presented the report, spotlighting its findings on why it is important to engage with diverse forms of justice; and participant working groups discussed implications for the process of harmonizing the legislative framework for MARCs with DRC’s relevant national policy frameworks.

Justice for all: Many ways to one goal

Nearly 1.5 billion people have no way to solve legal disputes or find redress for crimes they have experienced. In DRC, as in other countries, the brunt of this ‘justice gap’ is borne by the very poorest and vulnerable groups, like women and girls. It is a significant driver of conflict and a brake on development.

The report by Cordaid and ODI adds to voices that call for deliberate engagement with everyday justice providers. It sets out entry points to engage with everyday justice providers, ranging from support for justice seekers to know their rights and the law, to improving interface and coherence between justice providers; and ways to reduce the rights-abrogating practices of customary and informal actors that harm women, children, and other groups, through community dialogue or training.

As was made clear by most participants during the Kinshasa event, customary and informal justice providers present no lesser and no greater a challenge on issues like rights observance and accountability than the formal courts, judges, and lawyers on which international rule of law aid typically focuses—and the existing reach and legitimacy of such systems can strengthen access in rural and remote areas, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Customary and informal justice providers present no lesser and no greater a challenge on issues like rights observance and accountability than the formal courts, judges, and lawyers on which international rule of law aid typically focuses.

In DRC, Cordaid and its partners will follow-up on the Kinshasa dialogue with continued advocacy for and technical support too adoption of a MARCs framework that meets the needs of all Congolese justice seekers. They will also organize a follow-up event in March 2020, focusing on how the specific needs of women can be better-met through engagement with customary and informal justice providers.

Expanding access to justice

Globally, Cordaid and its partners are committed to expanding access to justice, especially for the most vulnerable groups in society, in ways that enable people to get the best results from the pathways to justice they trust most. As a justice partner of the Task Force on Justice, Cordaid continues to work with a broad spectrum of allies and stakeholders to achieve the vision of justice for all by 2030 contained in the Sustainable Development Goals.

As summarized by Ambassador Schuddeboom: “Regardless of the mode of justice chosen, as long as this it offers the poorest people the opportunity to have justice done in a fair way while contributing to social peace, this form of justice deserves to be explored—so long as it is not contrary to the laws of the country.”

Please see Cordaid and ODI’s new report, Diverse Pathways to Justice for All, on our website