Justice brought closer to home
In 2010, 70-year old Rwankumbiri Théodomir from Huye District, South-Western Rwanda, sought help from UNDP supported Maison d’Accès à la Justice (MAJ), the access to justice office in order to reclaim his 99 year-old mother-in-law’s land in Ngoma District.
His family had fled the 1959 Tutsi killings, leaving everything behind. Upon return to the country after the 1994 genocide, they learnt that a family had illegally occupied their land. Théodomir then decided to turn to the justice system to settle his claim.
“Given the High Court had to resolve my case, I was challenged by the fact that I was defending the case alone against the lawyer of the defendants, who understood the law better than I did. I was lucky to learn about the existence of MAJ in Huye, and I decided to consult it” explained Théodomir.
- Beneficiaries testify to the benefits of a decentralized justice system to improve access to justice in Rwanda
- With the support of UNDP, Maison d’Accès à la Justice (MAJ) has been scaled up to become part of the justice system to address people’s claims and grievances
He approached the MAJ in Huye to help him understand how to present his case successfully. MAJ studied his case and transferred it to the High Court and within one year the case was settled in Théodomir’s favor.
According to Théodomir, if MAJ had not intervened in his case, it might have taken even longer and he probably would have lost, as he did not have enough money to pay for a lawyer. Today, he is only waiting for the permanent title deed and is already farming the land to feed his wife and four children.
Ms. Claudine Umuhire, the Legal Officer of Huye’s MAJ, explained that the office was opened in July 2010. Ms. Umuhire said that for 2 years since opening, they have dealt with more than 2800 cases, and in 2012 alone, they received more than 1000 cases. “Initially, people were reluctant to approach us for advice, but over the years, the office has become popular as more people understand what we do and hear about the efficiency of MAJ” Ms Umuhire explained.
Currently, Rwanda has a low advocate to population ratio such that the decentralized justice system of the MAJ was created to ensure universal access to legal advice and assistance. The government’s main strategy for decentralizing justice has been the establishment of these offices in every district throughout the country. MAJ is therefore an example of how the decentralization process of the Justice Sector in Rwanda has been a success. Since the establishment of the pilot MAJ in 2008, UNDP Rwanda has provided financial and technical support to the establishment of 5 bureaus. Due its success, the Government of Rwanda scaled up the project resulting in the MAJ being present in each of the 30 districts.
The MAJ aims to improve access to legal advice and assistance; to train mediators at local level nationwide; to act as the link between the Ministry of Justice, Local Governments and the mediators; as well as to disseminate laws to the local communities.