9 August 2021
In Uganda, access to justice is limited by the financial resources of local populations but also by the geographical distance to the courts of law. Most of the justice law and order services remain in the urban areas and central region with only 18.2% of the population in rural areas able to access a Magistrate court within a distance of 5km (compared to 56% in urban areas). This geographical distance creates a physical barrier that may result in victims or justice seekers relinquishing their rights.
Women face additional challenges as gender discrimination and patriarchal norms often discourage them to solve their disputes in State Courts. As it is considered inappropriate for women to talk about family matters in a public forum.
For all those reasons, many people use the informal justice system in order to resolve conflicts. And community-based mediators have a big role to play in order to assist local populations in their demands for justice, especially women who still face structural challenges on basis of gender and struggle to benefit from safe spaces to express their grievances.
ASF, through the DGD and LEWUTI mediation projects, provided mediation services to 633 people in 2020 in the Karamoja, Albertine and the Acholi Sub regions. Mediations conducted by ASF trained practitioners have been well received. Under the LEWUTI project for example, 94% of beneficiaries expressed satisfaction about the services.
The project design has been a key factor in its success. ASF community-based mediation program, funded by ENABLE and DGD, provides a basis for a consistent and human rights-based approach to mediation. It empowers trusted individuals within the community by enhancing their skills in dispute resolution. The mediators work within their communities and provide free mediation services to the community.
Additionally, they are each attached to a coach and a mentor to continuously provide guidance in the areas of law, and referral services they may make use of. The continuous mentorship and coaching has improved the quality of mediations as well as referrals undertaken by the mediators. It has additionally enabled them to gain trust within the community and with local leaders and elders who constantly refer cases to the ASF trained mediators.
The services provided by the community-based mediators came in very handy at the height of Covid-19 pandemic, especially because of the restrictions that resulted from the crisis. The mediators constituted critical first line legal support providers during the global pandemic, which created more inequalities in access to justice especially in the rural areas.