19 March 2014
Goma, 19 March 2014 – The vulnerable population in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is benefiting from free legal advice thanks to a new partnership between the bar associations in the region and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF). In practice, this means that more life is injected into the free legal aid services organised by the bar association, helping to make the justice system more attainable for people seeking justice, and to assist in bringing about a return to lasting peace.
Managed by the bar association, the Free Consultations Office (Bureau de Consultations Gratuites, BCG) is tasked with providing free legal aid services to vulnerable people seeking justice, such as women, minors or people in pre-trial detention.
According to Congolese legislation, the bar associations in each province must organise a BCG. However, before ASF became involved, the east of the country was particularly deprived: there was only one single operational BCG in the province of South Kivu, serving an estimated population of four million inhabitants, and no service was available in North Kivu nor in the Ituri district. Even when they are operational, the BCGs are faced with enormous difficulties when it comes to organising this aid, due to the lack of resources coming from the Congolese state.
Since October 2013, this situation has been on the road to change thanks to the technical and financial support provided by ASF to the BCGs in the cities of Bukavu, Goma and Bunia, in connection with the support programme for strengthening the justice system in the east of the DRC, entitled “Uhaki Safi”. “Our support means we can ensure better access to justice for the Congolese population as a whole, and in particular for people living in vulnerable situations, both in towns and in the most isolated villages”, explains Hélène Trachez, Head of the ASF Mission in Goma.
Thus, in the BCGs supported by ASF, everyone can meet with a lawyer who will listen to them, explain the law and dispense high-quality legal advice. “Our teams organise training sessions for lawyers in order to improve their ability to listen and advise, but also their use of techniques such as mediation. Thanks to this technique, conflicts in daily life, such as disputes over land or minor civil disputes, can be settled without having to take the case to court”, adds Ms Trachez.
For the members of the different bar associations receiving support, the assistance given to the BCGs is very important. “The establishment of a BCG in a large city in Ituri will facilitate access to justice and free legal support for a vulnerable population, impoverished by years of conflict”, the President of the Bar of Kisangani, François Alauwa, notes with satisfaction. “Thanks to this collaboration, there will also be mobile legal clinics in rural areas, and advice and aid will be given in the three prisons in the district.”
The programme “Uhaki Safi”, which means “fair justice” in Swahili, is being implemented with the support of the European Union and contributions from Belgium and Sweden. It supports BCGs in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and the Ituri district in the Eastern Province, areas devastated by violence and insecurity for many years. To date, 1,010 people have benefited from free legal advice thanks to this project.