DR Congo: Taking the law in their own hands

Justice in this DR Congo is hard to come by. Legal processes are expensive and slow. The Chirezi Foundation is creating a quick and affordable system of village courts, staffed by volunteers and based on traditional ways.

Flory's organisation, Foundation Chirezi, holds a peace eduation seminar in Kiliba, DR Congo

Eastern Congo is one of the most fragile countries on earth. In the wars that have raged since 1996, over two million people have become refugees. Now as they return, many find their homes or land have been taken over by others. An influx of returning refugees can disrupt hard-won stability and spark a return to violence. Displaced populations can cause all kinds of disruptions, often around the need for land in subsistence farming communities.

Mama Kabibi is 78 years old. She has watched her children die one by one, either in combat or through disease. Alone, she could not defend her land and was powerless when a former combatant forced her from her home and her one source of food – her cassava field. She approached the authorities for help, but heard nothing more.

Justice in this region is hard to come by. Legal processes are expensive and slow. Peacebuilder Flory Kazingufu was told by a local lawyer that out of 2,000 cases that went to the official courts last year, only 8 were resolved. And desperately poor villagers often cannot afford to even launch a case.

Now Flory is creating a quick and affordable system of village courts, staffed by volunteers and based on traditional ways.

His organization, Chirezi, has trained a team of impartial observers to manage the cases. The result is that local people have somewhere to go to resolve their disputes, free of cost.

These courts give people fast, effective access to justice, which they can’t get otherwise. – Flory Kazingufu

Mama Kabibi came to see the court volunteers in February. They began work on her case straight away. After just two hearings, the former combatant agreed to give her land back. Now she can grow her own food again and face the future safely.

For a project that has only just begun, this shows the immediate impact these courts can have on the lives of the vulnerable. Flory’s three community courts span 32 villages, serving almost a quarter of a million people. And because they use traditional structures and are run by local people, they will be sustainable for the long-term future. Make a donation to help give people access to justice in DR Congo.

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