Accessing justice is a right that every citizen of the world should enjoy without much ado. But usually, the most vulnerable, the poor and the marginalized are kept away from enjoying the fundamentals of justice. In Rwanda, the nascent justice system requires much support to ensure expeditious justice delivery and for all.
The IJM has provided a platform for such interventions. THE NEW TIMES’ THOMAS KAGERA talks to IJM RWANDA Field Office Director LANE MEARS to have an insight of how the Mission intervenes to secure justice for all.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is an American-based Non Government Organisation formed in 1997 by Gary Haugen, an American prosecutor who had a passion for Jesus and care for the oppressed. The mission of IJM is to ensure justice, rescue and work on restoration of individuals’ self esteem. IJM has 15 field offices in ten countries; Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, India, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Guatemala and Bolivia.
As an organization that nurtures Christian values, it believes that some individuals cannot secure justice on their own so the IJM intervenes on their behalf. The major evils that the Mission fights are human trafficking, land, sexual assault and slavery grabbing.
In 2007, IJM opened shop in Rwanda to contribute to the improvement of lives through the legal interventions. The country has come a long way since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, but the justice system is still a young sector where IJM stepped in to support and collaborate with the government in its development.
Supporting the land reform policies
The IJM in its first 3 years in Rwanda greatly contributed to the promotion of land rights by aligning with what government objectives are. The IJM drafted a law manual for the National Land Center that highlighted the rights of the land owners. The manual has been distributed to the district land offices throughout the country.
Through the advocacy programme, IJM has helped in solving 136 land disputes and trained more than 156 local leaders (including Abunzi) on how resolve land disputes and given advice to about 150 people on land-related issues.
Helping victims access justice
For the last 11/2 years, IJM has been representing sexually assaulted children. More than 30 children have been assisted through trauma counseling and treatment. Since January 2011, 13 IJM clients’ cases have resulted in a conviction of te child rapist.
In October 2011 trained 25 prosecutors and judges with skills of handling sexual assault cases. Some 1000 local leaders in Kicukiro, Nyarugenge and Gasabo were also trained in handling such cases. IJM supports the Prosecution Authority in DNA testing in those cases that involve sexual violence.
Sustainability is a key component in the IJM programmes. This explains why IJM works with MINIJUST, Prosecution Authority to train the professionals—prosecutors—to create capacity that ensures consistent access to justice, but also the local leaders in how to effectively respond to sexual assault cases. They are empowered with skills and knowledge how to interact with the affected child, collect information, how to work with the police among others. IJM has also worked with such NGOs as ; Lawyers of Hope, Haguruka, social workers and trauma counselors.
Through the justice journey Programme, IJM also works with churches to engage them in justice issues in their communities. On two occasions, IJM has helped victims that were being abused by family members to be placed in boarding schools.
How IJM works on sexual assault cases
IJM usually gets referrals from local leaders, churches, NGOs, and individuals. After reporting the case to police, then a team of social workers makes an assessment to establish the emotional, legal and medical needs of the victim. The child is encouraged to tell the story. A legal consultant is then retained to provide the services until the case is concluded.
If the family from which the victim comes is identified to be in need of finances, then an income generating project may be started for them or sponsorship for the school-going children. The poorest are the most vulnerable to the assault crimes so IJM intervenes by breaking the cycle through education, jumpstarting the skills and income.
Challenges and way forward
IJM would like to do much more in Capacity Building, sponsoring the victims and get more in the loop for counseling but the resources at times limit what can be offered at a particular time. But IJM staff, on the whole, are impressed with the path the country is treading. There is still work to be done, but at least access to justice has significantly improved over the years. IJM commends the government of Rwanda and the Justice sector for their efforts.