Members of new committees of community mediators, commonly known as Abunzi, have been urged to deliver timely, fair, affordable and restorative justice.
Odette Yankulije, the head of access to justice department at the Ministry of Justice made the call on Friday, while presiding the handover ceremony between the outgoing and the incoming Abunzi committees in Kimironko sector.
“You are there to ensure conflicts are managed in a conciliatory way. You are not judges to be bound to determine the victor and the looser. You have to make sure that you deliver a kind of justice that helps to reconcile those in conflicts,” she said.
“You should help them to reconcile, but also you will need to take a decision if the two parties fail to reconcile as the law entrusts you with those powers,” Yankulije told the incoming committee.
Francine Mukakalisa, the president of the outgoing committee said the voluntary service was a learning opportunity for them.
“We faced several challenges like lack of logistics and absenteeism by some committee members, but it has also been an opportunity for me to learn more about conflict management,”She said.
During their tenure in office between 2010 and 2015, the outgoing Committee handled a total of 217 social disputes and successfully resolved 177 disputes, representing 86 per cent of the reported social cases.
The Committees heard and determined 31 cases, but their verdicts were rejected by disputants who proceeded to the formal courts, representing 14 per cent of reported social disputes. Social disputes handled included family conflicts as well as succession/inheritance disputes.
They issued verdicts for 24 cases in which involved litigants rejected the rulings and moved to court, representing 46 per cent of reported criminal cases. Criminal disputes involved breach of contracts, land demarcation disagreements and breach of trust.
Some of the challenges bedeviling over 30,700 Abunzi committees across the country are inadequate capacity building opportunities, need for logistical support required for gathering information, especially in land demarcation disputes that require field visits, and lack of security for members who occasionally bear the brunt of violent litigants.
Dr Jean Baptiste Rusine, the president of the incoming committee said the committee is ready to address the challenges and offer equitable justice to the community.
“Our committee is mostly made of people who have been serving as Abunzi for several years, which means we have enough experience to deliver fair and timely justice,” Dr Rusine said
Meanwhile, Annie Kairaba, the country director for Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development that supports Abunzi committees in 10 districts urged the incoming committee to uphold the values and commitment that characterised the outgoing committees.