African officials hail community courts for easing access to justice

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-23 03:47:51|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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KIGALI, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- Judicial experts meeting in Rwanda's capital city Kigali on Tuesday called for blending formal and traditional justice systems to ease access to justice in Africa.

"We acknowledge the importance of justice institutions in promoting access to justice but also realize the limitations of this formal system," said Abdulai Hamid Charm, the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone.

"Legal professionals need to collaborate with community-based justice institutions to attend to those in most need of the services we provide," he said.

Charm was speaking at the opening of a three-day continental conference on collaboration between the judiciary and community justice institutions in Kigali.

The meeting drew participants from more than 15 countries across the continent to discuss ways to strengthen collaboration between the judiciary and community justice institutions.

Participants argued that majority of Africans live in rural areas with limited means to access justice.

Judicial officials from different African countries are calling for ways to harmonize formal justice with community justice systems in order to ease access to justice.

Citing Rwanda's gacaca courts and mediation committees locally known as Abunzi, experts said this could reduce court backlogs as well as help maintain harmony in the community through amicable resolution of disputes.

Rwanda has won much praise for blending local conflict-resolution traditions with a modern punitive legal system to deliver justice for the country's 1994 genocide.

By the time of their closure in 2012, gacaca courts tried up to 1.9 million cases in ten years. Scholars say this traditional system was successful in swiftly delivering justice.

According to Mogoeng Mogoeng, the South African Chief Justice, access to justice is still a problem particularly in Africa.

He stressed the need to make justice more accessible through capacity building to have well-equipped paralegals who can interpret customary laws.

Rwanda's Chief Justice Sam Rugege is hopeful that Africa's traditional justice can be improved and made more efficient to make a difference.

He said there are many barriers to access to mainstream justice such as poverty that leads to inability to afford legal assistance and representation, ignorance of rights, issues of culture and language problems in some countries.

He said community-based justice systems would help overcome many of the barriers to justice since they are inexpensive, geographically more accessible, informal, and culturally familiar.

Though some cases can not be handled by community-based justice, the majority of problems faced by Africans can be resolved by community-based justice means, according to experts.