Abunzi elections pushed back amid Covid-19 concerns

Community mediators locally referred to as ‘Abunzi during the hearing . / file

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, new committees of community mediators, locally referred to as Abunzi, will not be elected as the government reconsiders the election process.

Last week Justice Minister, Johnson Busingye, in a statement announced the end of a 5-year tenure for the outgoing committee.

 

Ordinarily, this would mean that a new committee, was supposed to assume office on August 1.

 

However, the head of the Access to Justice Department in the Ministry of Justice, Martine Urujeni explained to The New Times that the election process was hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.

 

According to the law, she said, a new committee of community mediators is elected late July in order to ensure that they assume office immediately after the tenure of the outgoing team.

But the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was unable to carry out elections as planned.

The elections normally engage in-person interaction hence putting people at the risk of containing the coronavirus.

“This means that the official date of elections will be based on the country’s health assessment”.

Urujeni pointed out that the situation calls for better and improvised measures that will not see any citizen being posed at the risk of contracting the virus.

“We are trying to be careful and at the same time innovative for new ways that will facilitate elections while everyone is safe,” she said.

Alternatively, Urujeni said that based on the delay of the elections, new claims which ordinarily fall under the jurisdiction of Abunzi – both at the primary and appeals level – shall temporarily be filed to the executive secretaries of cell and sector, respectively.

“We encourage citizens to take their cases at the cell level, where they will be registered. Those cases shall be the first ones to be resolved once the new committee starts working”

Abunzi represents a hybrid of the conventional justice system and Rwanda’s traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.

There is a mediation committee at every cell to handle the cases on the first instance and a similar one at the sector level, which handles appeals. 

They are elected by the people at the village level to resolve disputes that were previously referred to as courts of law.

According to Urujeni, the committees were introduced at a time the country’s judicial system was faced with a huge backlog of cases. 

Available data shows that the outgoing committee has resolved at least 97% of the total number of cases filed (149,792), of which more than 70% of the cases were resolved at the primary level.

Land disputes form the biggest part of the disputes adjudicated to Abunzi 

According to Urujeni, by the time of the expiry of their term, there were 17,941 mediators across the country.

eashimwe@newtimesrwanda.com

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