For many living in war-torn DR Congo, access to fast and effective justice is rare. Local disputes over land, farming or marriage can quickly escalate to wider violence that feeds into complex local conflicts. This leaves people without ways of resolving their conflicts peacefully and can entrench dangerous cycles of violence.
Promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies where non-violent solutions, justice and strong institutions are firmly embedded in all communities is what Sustainable Development Goal 16 – one of the 17 ambitious global goals under the banner of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – aims to achieve by 2030.
The rationale behind the goal states: “Some regions enjoy sustained levels of peace, security and prosperity while others fall into seemingly endless cycles of conflict and violence. This is by no means inevitable and must be addressed.”
While world leaders grapple with the ambitious targets, local peacebuilders are already taking action on the ground. It is important to have a global agenda, to unite us as an international community and strive for something better for our planet. But the most practical way to achieve these lofty goals is by building from the ground up, community by community, piece by piece, peace by peace. We can look to the grassroots to see how local people are already solving these problems, building peace in their communities.
The Chirezi Foundation (FOCHI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo exemplifies how local organisations are working at the grassroots to promote inclusive societies and access to justice, resulting in huge strides towards peace.
FOCHI has established village Peace Courts that offer free access to justice for all members of the local community. Called barazas, these Courts are modelled on traditional village gatherings, giving them particular legitimacy within the community. Eveline is 25 years old and has a three month old girl. She is the treasurer of the Kitona baraza in her community.
Eveline says: “I am very glad to be part of the baraza. I was working around the village when I met Joseph the president of the baraza who was working with the community. I wanted to be involved but asked him what is the baraza? He said that the baraza was there to solve community conflicts for free. I asked what kind of conflicts? He replied conflicts of land, family, tribes, lots of things. I joined and have been working with the baraza for three years.”
“We see around 4-5 cases per month. The baraza has had a big impact on Kitona. We heard many testimonies from people who had conflict troubles but they came to the baraza, got solutions and now people live peacefully.”
“One example is two members of the baraza, Maimuna and her husband Kibukila. Her husband would get drunk and hit her and she lost a tooth because of this. She came to the baraza and they worked with them to resolve the conflict. As a result they both became members of the baraza. If you support the baraza you can carry on helping others with their experiences.”
In South Kivu, where a gender division is apparent in many social roles and expectations, women have traditionally found it hard to have their voice heard. However, the barazas FOCHI has established have not only been in solving local conflicts, but have had the unexpected benefit of promoting gender equality.
Each baraza has its own all-female section, where women feel comfortable coming to discuss and address sexual violence justice. FOCHI has taken a rights-based approach to empowering these women, introducing to them rights they may not have been aware of before.
Despite having no gender quotas to be met nor gender requirements to be fulfilled, communities independently elected women to make up 26% of the leadership in their committees.
Not only are more community members concerns now being heard, but having women in these courts also brings more light to the women’s voice in their society. Female leaders are bringing their issues to the table, where they have been given little importance before.
FOCHI has demonstrated that local solutions to provide access to justice work. It is the ripple effect of community based approaches that will spread and establish peaceful, inclusive societies. In war-torn DR Congo, hope can be found in the barazas and the communities they provide justice for. For women like Eveline, the impact on the ground is clear. The international community would do well to listen.