Give Justice a Chance
"Injustice reigns, it is the law of the jungle or the strongest crushes the weak. I have fought for a long time for my property without success. But I can rejoice because I finally have the documents necessary to my property," says Seza Eustache from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Minova is a small town in the Kalehe territory in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where the mobile court was held last October by the Kalehe Peace Court supported by People in Need (PIN). This arrival of a mobile court was beneficial for most of the people in this region because it managed to deal with more cases and pronounce judgments on most of them. These hearings enabled the process of some cases that had not been treated for over 10 years. Such hearings also enable the population attending the sessions to learn how justice works, to understand how judges make their decisions, which improves the population’s faith in the justice system.
Seza Eustache, the 54-year-old member of an audience hearing, describes how the mobile court changed his personal situation: "I had a lot of trouble because they wanted to take my plot from me. Access to justice was very difficult for me, to get the files was very expensive and more over the court is very far to 94 km from us. Thanks to the arrival of the mobile court here with the help of People in Need I was able to find the solution to my problem. So now I can live in peace in my property."
The hearings are part of the project Give Justice a Chance implemented by PIN DRC and its local partner Initiative Congolaise pour la Justice et la Paix (ICJP) since September 2015. It aims to improve access to justice for citizens while strengthening the formal judicial system in the Kalehe territory in the South Kivu province in Eastern Congo. Different strategies are deployed in the project, namely training of supervisors and volunteers who have an active role in the project, sensitising the population about basic human rights, and the importance of using the formal justice system, and organising mobile court hearings to bridge the physical, and financial gaps between citizens and justice. All strategies reinforce each other, strengthen citizens’ faith in the justice sector and (are meant to) improve citizens’ access to justice.
After more than one year later, the residents of Minova and Bunyakiri are now aware of the fact that most disputes need to be solved by official judiciary authorities. People are increasingly using formal jurisdictions, which is indicative of the growing faith of the communities in the justice system, as evidenced by their participation in mobile court hearings, which enables them to learn about and to claim their rights. In addition, the project is consistent with and complimentary to the policies in the DRC as it enhances access to formal justice and reduces the power of the traditional jurisdictions. In line with the DRC law, customary judges only sit with formal judges during prosecutions related to customs. According to authorities interviewed, the number of registered civil marriages and births has increased. Although changing mentalities and behaviour is a very long process, the project has planted the seeds of change.