The Ministry of Justice is today expected to launch a weeklong celebrations of the achievements of mediation committees (Abunzi) in the last 10 years.
The celebrations, according to Justice minister Johnston Busingye, will be concluded with a national event that will be held in Kigali at Amahoro National Stadium.
Under the theme, “Abunzi: Home grown Solution for peaceful conflict management,” the event will be attended by representatives of mediators.
Ten years ago, the government introduced the concept of community mediators, locally known as Abunzi and established a mechanism where people elect mediators from among themselves.
While speaking at a televised talk show yesterday, Busingye, said the concept which was drawn from the Rwandan tradition of solving problems through community dialogue, has since cut the number of cases filed in courts and ultimately reduced court backlog.
“Before the introduction of mediation committees, any form of a misunderstanding could end up in courts, this would make some cases unnecessarily drag on in courts for many years yet it would have been simple to handle,” Busingye said.
“Mediation came in place as a proposal from the people in the early days of 2003. Gacaca courts acted as motivation to the mediation committees. Today, courts are only handling cases that are not in the [mediators] jurisdiction,” the minister added.
“Records indicate that, as of today, 80 per cent of Rwandans are happy with the work done by mediation committees… a mediation committee is made up of 12 people and normally, when two people have a misunderstanding, they choose three members of the mediation committee to handle their case which makes the whole practice more suitable and satisfying to all the involved parties.”
Currently, there are about 30,000 mediators across the country who constitute the cell and sector mediation committees, although government plans to reduce the number as a measure of easing their facilitation.
The Mayor of Kamonyi, Jacque Rutsinga, said mediation committees contribute much to good governance since people’s misunderstandings are easily solved to enable them focus on developmental issues.
“There is quite a strong spirit in mediation. In the year 2013/14, mediators in Kamonyi handled 402 cases out of them 82 per cent were resolved through arbitration. All the parties were left satisfied,” Rutsinga said.
The Inspector General of Courts and Tribunals, François Rukundakuvuga, said mediators have been helpful as a new case would take about seven months from the day it is filed in court to be tried.
“So far cases handled by the mediation committees total about 89,000. Today 15,784 cases are pending in primary courts,” Rukundakuvuga said.
“This means that if someone files a case today in the courts, it would take four months for it to be tried and if we didn’t have mediation committees, pending cases in primary courts would be 24,983 and it would take seven months for a new case to be heard in courts.”
In a recent interview with The New Times, Françoise Mushimiyimana, 38, a resident of Rugalika Sector in Kamonyi District, who has been serving as a mediator in her village since 2004, said there is no better moral satisfaction than being at the centre of finding lasting peace in her community.
“Mediation is the best service you can render to your community,” Mushimiyimana said.
A report released by Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) in September shows that Abunzi have won public trust for particularly playing a key role in resolving land-related disputes.
The study, conducted in Kamonyi and Musanze districts, revealed that 87 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with Abunzi decisions as compared to other alternatives like family mediation, local government, or civil society entities like churches, among others.
The jurisdiction of the mediation committees is mainly to handle civil disputes. They mediate civil disputes related to land and other immovable assets whose value does not exceed Rwf3 million.
They also settle cases involving movable property and assets such as cattle, whose value does not exceed Rwf1 million.
Other cases they are mandated to deal with include civil cases involving breach of contract where the value of the matter or issue does not exceed Rwf1 million.
In addition, Abunzi mediate in family cases, including paternity, matrimonial inheritance and succession issues.
The launch of the mediation anniversary week is scheduled to take place in Bugesera District and officials say there will be several awareness activities going on throughout the week in all districts across the country.