The truth may be the first casualty of war, as the old saying goes, but justice runs it a close second. Where the rule of law and the protection offered by police and courts have all fallen apart, ordinary people are left vulnerable and unsafe. Communities already stressed by violence can be fragmented by disputes that never get resolved. In such situations, small conflicts feed into larger ones, individuals are left without the security that justice provides, and some will take the law into their own hands.
In war-torn eastern Congo (DRC), this has already happened. An area almost the size of Ireland has virtually no access to justice, because the police and legal systems are distant, slow, expensive or simply corrupt. To solve this problem, our partner Fondation Chirezi (FOCHI) has established a system of village courts or ‘barazas’, which cover a population of 70,000 people in South Kivu.
For Daniel Ruhanika, chief of the small market town of Sange, a baraza saved his life. A group of young Bafuliiri tribesmen had warned two rival tribes, the Banyamulenge and Barundi, not to set foot in the marketplace. Daniel tried to prevent this hostile move by taking a microphone into the market and telling citizens they could move freely about the town. The Bafuliiri called in their armed militia, who took Daniel hostage and demanded a ransom of $2,000 for his release.
This conflict not only threatened to unsettle the chief, his family, and the provincial and state authorities, but it also risked violence between the tribes – 20,000 Bafuliiri, 6,000 Barundi and 2,000 Banyamulenge who all inhabit the local