Rwandans To Elect ‘Grassroot Lawyers’ Tomorrow
Rwandans will this Saturday July 25, convene in their villages to elect over 11,000 grassroots mediators, locally known as Abunzi.
Abunzi are traditionally elderly people of integrity in the villages, who are trusted with ability to settle disputes fairly.
Abunzi are praised for their contribution in restoring peace in post-genocide Rwanda as a home-grown solution.
They helped try millions of genocide cases through 52,000 Gacaca courts across the countryâ€™s villages between 2002 and 2012, as a traditional justice system for social cohesion.
Today, the local mediators solve community-based disputes, saving Rwandans from spending millions of francs to settle court cases.
â€œAbunzi have helped citizens resolve over 75% of disputes in communities,â€ Justice Minister Johnston Busingye told News of Rwanda.
Ezrah Mugabo, a law student at University of Rwanda said, â€œWithout them (Abunzi), this country would be somewhere horrible in terms of reconciliation given the 1994 Tutsi genocide that befell this country.â€
Minister Busingye also says, â€œAbunzi contribute immensely to peaceful coexistence in the communities, empower citizens, and demystify dispute resolution.â€
â€œTheir contribution helps citizens avoid needless, costly, time consuming and potentially divisive disputes,â€ he said.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice hiked court fees for people filing case to different court levels, as a way of creating awareness for citizens to seek free justice at grassroots level.
Now a person filing a case to a primary court is required to pay up to Rwf25, 000 from Rwf2, 000.
Fees for an intermediate court rose from Rw4000 to Rwf50, 000. The High Court now charges Rwf75, 000 up from Rwf6000, while the Supreme Court charges rose to Rwf100, 000, from Rwf80, 000.
To strengthen the work of Abunzi, Justice Ministry established â€˜Access to Justice Bureauâ€™, where public legal offices offer free services through local mediators.
â€œWe receive 22,000 citizens seeking legal advice every year and 95% of their cases are settled,â€ Mardine Urujeni, the National Coordinator of the Justice Bureaus told this website. Abunzi operate on a voluntary basis.
Meanwhile, elections of grassroots mediators will see seven mediators elected in each of the countryâ€™s 416 sectors, as well as seven more mediators to be elected in over 2000 cells in the country.
Elections will be held after Umuganda. Other elections will continue in respective villages until July 31.