Enhancing Access to Justice, where it is needed the most

Jul 25, 2017

Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice(s) heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.

During a recently held Joint Field Visit, featuring staff from One UN Rwanda and institutions of the Justice Sector as well as members of CSOs, it quickly became evident that enhancing Access to Justice is front and center on the government’s priority list, which UNDP is honored to support both technically and financially.

Partnering with the youth in crime prevention:  The first stop was to visit students from Groupe Scolaire (GS) Kigeyo in Nemba, Burera Distirct. Gathered together in a small, stadium-like structure just outside the school compound, the students sang songs and eagerly awaited our arrival. Judging from the carefully coordinated clapping (in unison) and neatness of uniforms all around, this was clearly a big day for them, for which they had meticulously prepared for.

They did not disappoint as the Executive Secretary of the area quizzed them on various topics focusing mainly on human trafficking and gender-based violence, which they promptly and correctly answered. Sensitizing and educating the children especially from a young age is crucial in order to better equip them to handle issues such as child and human trafficking, and gender based violence, to which sadly many young girls and women are only too familiar with. Both the Rwanda National Police and the Ministry of Justice insisted on the role of the Youth in fighting human trafficking. The students were eager to learn more about human trafficking and committed to join in the fight against this crime.

Next stop was the Rwanda National Police offices in Northern and Western Region in Musanze and Rubavu, where the group was introduced to the Integrated Electronic Case Management System for the Justice Sector (IECMS).

The IECMS is uniquely designed to meet justice sector and citizens’ needs. It enables the justice sector institutions especially the Ministry of Justice, the prosecution, the Police, the judiciary and the corrections services as well as the bar association, to improve justice delivery by automating the litigation processes, from the time when the case is introduced. The system also allows to monitoring case related activities, and supporting decision-making through the use of real-time data and analytics. It also strengthens the accessibility and integrity of the justice system by enabling citizens to interface electronically with judicial bodies and services. The IECMS provides a complete set of functionality that includes online data entry, analytics, reporting, workflow management and system administration.

Police and justice sector employees all touted the importance of the system, which establishment was fully supported by UNDP Rwanda in partnership with the government of Rwanda.

However, there are challenges too, in particular the lack of sufficient computers to operate the system, regular power shortages and need for the installation of Fiber Optic cabling to speed up the network, are among the key challenges that were mentioned.

Speaking after witnessing a demonstration of how IECMS works, the UNDP Deputy Country Director in charge of Operations, Roselyn Sinemani commended the Rwanda Justice sector, lead by the Ministry of Justice, for setting up such an initiative which by design will aid and assist with the justice processes, not only enhancing access to justice for the most vulnerable members of society, but also relieving the burden on often overwhelmed prosecutors and judicial police officers, which in turn reduces case backlog in the courts. “I can now access the system online wherever I am using my phone and no longer need to be in the office to know that a case has been sent to the prosecution”, pointed out the chief prosecutor in RubavuBoth the Police and prosecution attest that the IECMS has improved the way they do their work.

The group thereafter visited the Isange One Stop Center, where personnel of the center explained to members of the justice sector and UN staff the functioning of the center, and what it means to the local community, especially victims of GBV.

It became apparent that the there is a need for a wide-ranging sensitization campaign regarding the need for not only women and children, but also men to avail themselves to the services of the facility. This sensitization is also needed to encourage people suffering from mistreatment and/or harassment, GBV and other forms of abuse to overcome their fear of stigmatization and receive appropriate assistance.

Lastly, the group paid a visit to the Kimonyi reconciliation village located in the northern part of Rwanda, established in 2008. The village has 188 families as of 15th June 2017, including genocide survivors, former genocide convicts released from prison as well as former FDLR fighters who have been reintegrated into the community. Meet Chantal, one of the genocide survivors living in Kimonyi village. She is also the founder of a traditional dancing club, which teaches the members of the community, on the need to live together as one people, as Rwandans.

‘At first it was very traumatizing to live together with the very same people that killed all of my family members. But as time went by, there was security and support from local government thus I became optimistic that we were all safe.’ She said.

Listening to their testimonies, it is impossible not to question how this is possible, how genocide survivors and genocide perpetrators can co-exist and even prosper. But this is what makes initiatives like Kimonyi Village special, and the reason why UNDP Rwanda and NURC partner with partners such as the prison Fellowship Rwanda to support reconciliation villages like Kimonyi village.  

Similar stories were told in Rubavu District at the Nyundo Peace Center. Ms Bibiane Nyirasafari, a genocide survivor, had for years been vicitimized by the community because she is a Tutsi. She used to hide in bushes in fear that she would be killed. BUt after sensitization of the community on unity, reconciliation and healing, with help from the Community Based Organisation for Peace (Ihumure), she is now accepted and has been supported by community memners. She feels safe and lives in harmony with the other members of the community.