25 July 2018
Kampala, 25 July 2018 – Last June, Avocats Sans Frontières released the Community-Based Mediation Training Module, along with three like-minded organisations: Justice Centres Uganda, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, and USAID-SAFE. This marked the end of a drafting process from which many lessons have been learned and the beginning of a long-term commitment to work towards closing a major gap in terms of access to justice in Uganda: the disconnection between the everyday forms of justice used by citizens and the justice provided by institutions.
In Uganda, very few disputes go to court. The formal courts suffer from huge backlogs and are physically, financially, technically, and psychologically inaccessible to the poor. Community-based dispute resolution (outside the formal court system), on the other hand, is deeply embedded in Ugandan culture.
However, while the vast majority of Ugandans resort to local mediation mechanisms to solve their legal issues, engaging with relevant stakeholders has revealed important flaws in the functioning of those mechanisms. ASF and its partners designed the Module to overcome some of those flaws, and more specifically to:
- Streamline the definition and understanding of mediation as a mode of conflict resolution in Uganda.
- Ensure that mediation processes and outcomes are in line with internationally accepted standards and do not reproduce gender discrimination or any other type of discrimination, which is pervasive within traditional societal structures.
- Focus on final agreements, the terms of which not only enhance the likelihood of decisions being implemented, but also provide some guarantees of form and content that could encourage courts of law and other authorities to endorse them.
The six-month development phase was a learning and collaborative process. National and international experts and local actors from three regions of Uganda provided the basis for developing the content. A pool of six trainers was created, who were involved in the writing process. The trainers were trained in adult education methods and performed tests in the field, after which they were certified to train mediators at a grass-roots level. The next steps will involve the creation of a network of certified mediators across Uganda, so as to ensure consistently high standards for the people using their services.
Training community-based mediators, as well as bringing the practice more in line with standards of fair, impartial, and inclusive justice, is a bottom-up approach to closing the current institutional gaps in access to justice. These efforts must be complemented by a formalisation of the links between community-based and court-based justice. A more formal record and recognition of community-based mediation outcomes by the Justice Law and Order Sector is needed. This would not only create disincentives for land-grabbing and other attempts to exploit the most vulnerable, but would also contribute greatly to reducing the case backlog currently burdening courts in Uganda and avoid “forum shopping” between existing avenues.
The relevance of the Module was repeatedly confirmed by justice actors at all levels, in a context where conflicts about land issues are rife between community members. Ongoing development projects requiring the acquisition of land, such as those related to oil development in the Albertine Graben, and government endeavours to register land across the country, are likely to further exacerbate those conflicts. These often complex situations, which feed on power imbalances and gaps in the justice system, require broad-ranging solutions. Close cooperation between a wide set of actors involved in the delivery of justice and beyond is needed to build a justice system that is accessible, efficient, and flexible enough to address the broad spectrum of conflicts in Uganda’s diverse regions.