President Paul Kagame has told members of mediation committees, popularly known as Abunzi, to uphold their values since Rwandans believe in the work they do.
The President was yesterday speaking at Petit Stade in Remera during celebrations to mark 10 years since the establishment of mediation committees.
The President hailed the mediators for executing their duties in a transparent and objective manner, saying it is for this that Rwandans believe in them.
“Mediation committees were established as a way of advancing social cohesion, giving Rwandans an opportunity to settle disputes amicably, ensuring affordable and effective justice that saves time,” Kagame said.
He warned local leaders against interfering with the work of Abunzi, asking that they should instead accord the mediators assistance.
A study conducted by Transparency International Rwanda in 15 districts in February 2012 revealed that 81.4 per cent of the population were satisfied with the performance of the Abunzi.
Mediation Committees comprise people of high integrity, responsible for ensuring that disputes are settled amicably within the communities. The committees are established at cell and sector levels.
Justice minister Johnston Busingye recognised the women’s role in mediation, saying that out of about 30,700 mediators in the country, 45 per cent are women.
Busingye noted that the mediators’ integrity has been their identity and it is the reason why they have achieved much in a short time.
“In the year 2012/13, among the 57, 473 cases that mediators handled, only 8,231 went to conventional courts while among 45, 285 cases handled in 2013/14, only 4,591 went to conventional courts,” Busingye said.
Busingye also recognised the fact that mediators face a number of challenges like lack of communication facilities which he pledged to solve before the end of the year.
Pelagie Ndayizeye, the president of Gashaki Sector mediation committee in Musanze District, said the work they do has played a significant role in ensuring effective justice to all.
“We have won people’s trust. People no longer have to spend time and money in courts,” she said.
Among the challenges mediators face, according to Ndayizeye, include lack of facilitation in terms of transport and communication.
The UN Resident Coordinator, Lamin Manneh, said the Abunzi system is an important vehicle for reinforcing reconciliation and peaceful resolution of conflicts.
“Abunzi’s contribution to socio- economic development cannot be over-emphasised. We have learnt that 80 per cent of cases brought before mediators have been resolved and this has greatly contributed to a reduction in the backlog of cases in ordinary courts,” he said.
Manneh pointed out that from the development partners’ perspective, Abunzi are well placed to do the job they do since they are elected by the people and, therefore, the public has confidence in their decisions, and that they live in the communities and understand well the problems of the citizens.
A mediation committee has 12 members and in a situation where two residents are involved in a dispute, they choose three members from the committee to assist them settle the issue amicably.
The initial settlement is held at the cell level; if any of the parties is not satisfied with the initial hearing, an appeal is filed at the sector level mediation committee.
Still, if any of the parties is not satisfied, the aggrieved party may move to conventional courts and file the case with the Primary Court.