7 December 2017
Bujumbura (Burundi), 7 December 2017 – After several months of preparation, the official launch of the “Menya Utunganirwe” (“Know and Assert Your Rights”) project took place last week in Bujumbura. Avocats Sans Frontières, the bar associations of Bujumbura and Gitega, and two civil society organisations, the Association pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme and the Association des Femmes Juristes du Burundi, came together with a shared objective: bringing people closer to justice, by facilitating access to justice through local mechanisms which respond to their concerns and address their needs.
Despite being a recognised right, access to justice remains difficult for the majority of Burundian citizens. One of the problems they face is a lack of knowledge about procedures, due in part to their complexity and to the high rate of illiteracy. Citizens are not informed. “Selling your patch of land to pay for a legal procedure, is that a solution?”, asks Sistor Havyarimana, ASF Project Coordinator. “The individual must have the ability to be informed of the possibilities that exist and make a choice according to their situation.” Distance and poor access to lawyers also restrict access to justice. “Conflicts can escalate: a simple dispute over property could lead to a murder, when an earlier intervention might have yielded a peaceful solution.”
Mr Arcade Harerimana, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and Ms Christella Kankindi, head of the “Demande de Justice” (“Demand for Justice”) coordinating group, stressed that the right to access to justice is enshrined in the Ministry’s sectoral policy. Nonetheless, they both highlighted the obstacles that exist for many vulnerable citizens. “This vulnerability may be financial, personal (age, sickness, education, religion, etc.), or it could be linked to the nature of the problem,” explains Ms Kankindi.
That is why ASF and its partners have committed themselves to spending five years working together on a project made up of three approaches:
- Strengthening people’s power to act in order to encourage the prevention of conflicts, by enabling them to be actors in the realisation and assertion of their rights. Community facilitators, close to the population, will receive assistance in responding to the population’s need for information and advice. This also entails diversifying modes of conflict resolution.
- Strengthening independent, effective, and good-quality justice mechanisms, to contribute to bringing about a state based on the rule of law. Lawyers will have their skills enhanced and will receive training in identified areas. ASF will also provide assistance to lawyers in the delivery of quality legal aid services. According to Mr Salvator Kiyuku, President of the Bujumbura Bar Association, lawyers are keen to resolve the issues encountered by Burundian citizens. The lawyer has a social role to play and must defend vulnerable citizens: “It’s a moral, ethical, and social obligation,” he explained.
- Coordinating those involved in the justice system and exchanging innovative practices. Legal mechanisms and alternative mechanisms for resolving conflict are considered complementary and actors can strengthen one another by establishing a shared framework for their activities.
The “Menya Utunganirwe” project is funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation.
>> Download the document presenting the project (PDF in French).