While Rwandans currently appear to have a high reliance on litigation and bringing disputes to the courts, experts indicate that many of them would prefer dispute resolution processes where all parties can engage in dialogue to achieve a mutual understanding and resolution. Hence the enactment of the Alternative Dispute Resolution and Criminal Justice policies. The development of these two policies has been a key focus of Rwanda's justice sector reforms since 2012. The purpose of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Policy is to ensure that people in Rwanda effectively address their disputes with mutual understanding and satisfaction. ALSO READ: Over 4,000 cases resolved through mediation in five years The policies aim to enhance amicable dispute resolution mechanisms, promote a culture of problem-solving within families, and reinforce the harmonious settlement of disputes in Rwandan society During The Summit show on November 15, experts shed light on the importance of ADR and other criminal justice policies as well as their implementation. According to Anastase Nabahire, the Director General in Charge of Justice Sector Coordination at the Ministry of Justice, ADR contributes to building peace in the country at various levels, including between individuals and groups within the community. “Instead of prolonged litigation, people should save time, money, and relationships by resolving conflicts through easier methods,” he said. ALSO READ: New policy on alternative justice to help reduce backlog in courts Nabahire commended the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other development partners in developing strategic plans for policies related to dispute resolution. He discussed the ongoing refurbishment of a facility to serve as an ADR coordination centre, where mediation services and documentation would be provided. He expressed optimism about the progress, especially with the implementation of strategic plans and the training of equipped mediators, given that in collaboration with the Judiciary, over 400 graduated in mediation. “The Judiciary had already started providing mediation services before the adoption of the ADR dispute resolution policy. Legislators and judges were conducting mediation for eligible cases,” he added. Nabahire acknowledged the backlog in the court system, attributing it to increased awareness of citizens' rights and improved case management systems. He called on citizens to participate in the justice process and support the government's efforts to reduce the backlog, emphasizing the application of mediation in various civil and administrative matters as well as plea bargaining for crimes with penalties not exceeding two years imprisonment. ALSO READ: Are lawyers blocking mediation efforts? Jean de Dieu Kayiranga, the Programme Analyst at UNDP Rwanda, highlighted the dual nature of the push and necessity for the organisation to intervene and support the Ministry of Justice. He said there was an urgent need for people to access justice promptly, citing the adage Justice delayed is Justice denied and the challenges of prolonged case processing and backlog. “Mediation is the primary means to reduce case backlogs in the justice system,” he asserted. According to Kayiranga, UNDP collaborated with the Ministry of Justice and other sector institutions to implement ADR and justice policies, aiming to expedite justice delivery. A capacity assessment, supported by UNDP, UNICEF, and the Ministry, to identify needs for mediation professionals and institutions was also conducted. Kayiranga said that, however, there is a need for additional resources to support the mediation process, including decentralised centres across provinces and districts for more comprehensive coverage, with an appeal for partnerships and support for mediation in Rwanda. He also highlighted the need for new capacities in the context of a shift from traditional reliance on community mediators, citing that under the new policy, investigative bureaus now have the mandate to mediate. Kayiranga further discussed the importance of understanding the requirements for mediating different situations and the spectrum of skills needed for capacity building, citing that “these skills may not be readily available at present but are essential for the future.” Bernadette Uwicyeza, a Mediator and Founder of Mediation Home Rwanda Organization, said that when litigants come to court, judges and judicial officers suggest fast mediation to promote its use, adding that however, people often refuse due to unfamiliarity, as they have been accustomed to the adversarial system for about 60 years. “The challenge lies in convincing them that mediation is a safe and effective alternative,” she noted, adding that some people are hesitant to use private mediators due to associated costs. Uwicyeza also emphasised the importance of training mediators to build trust with the parties involved. She highlighted her organization's efforts to train private mediators and the collaboration with a U.S.-based organisation for professional mediation training. The programme, overseen by a committee within the Judiciary, aims to encourage mediation even before court filing, which she said increases the success of court-mediated cases.