A lawyer helping a resident of Nyarugenge who needs legal assistance.

Residents of Nyarugenge, Nyagatare, Gicumbi, Rusizi and Rwamagana districts are to benefit from a newly launched project on access to justice in Rwanda.

Dubbed “Dufatanye Kubaka Ubutabera”, the 3$ million project aims at improving citizens’ knowledge of legal rights and expanding access to quality legal services.

Financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), this project will help the justice system in Rwanda identify innovations to support provision of legal services as the country responds to and recovers from Covid-19.

The inaugural event took place in Kigali Sector, Nyarugenge District, where lawyers and community mediators (abunzi) offered legal services to hundreds of citizens for free.

This project will be implemented over a five-year period, where lawyers will be able to reach out to Rwandans in the villages and cells where they live, and help them.

“Dufatanye Kubaka Ubutabera (Working together to build Justice) is really a program that will help build justice as its name implies. We will help the people to know their rights, throught different communication channels. We will do sentitisation campaigns, especially with the use of radios, educating the public on basic laws, and teaching them how to resolve disputes without going to courts,” Ninette Umurerwa, the Executive Secretary of Haguruka said.

“We will provide legal assistance to the people from where they are located. They will not come to our offices, but we will find them in their villages, in the cells as we did today. Our lawyers will step up efforts to work with local authorities to address existing issues, “she added.

Umurerwa explaining why this project will help ordinary Rwandans access quality legal aid

Umurerwa also said that they will help “community mediators known as Abunzi through the Ministry of Justice to increase their capacity and provide them with some of the equipments they need, while also tackling mental health issues witnessed in prisons.”

As part of the implementation of this project, the capacity of justice sector actors to effectively use innovative ICT solutions such as Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) in dispending justice will also be reinforced.

A broad geographic reach is envisioned by Dufatanye Kubaka Ubutabera project with several activities implemented nationwide, such Legal Aid Weeks, increasing access to justice though legal aid coordination, and increasing opportunities for individuals to access legal services through simple mobile phone technology.

The Nyarugenge District Administrator, Ngabonziza Emmy, commended the new access to justice initiative, highlighting issues of lack of necessary justice that are of concern in Nyarugenge.

“There are land-related quarrels related to tranfers of land titles and disputes over inheritance that we continue to witness, but with these partners we hope they will be resolved. There are also problems in families where divorce cases are on the rise. Dislocation of families is increasingly affecting children who are prey to many forms of violence as a result of lack of parental care and protection,” Ngabonziza noted.

He added that, “There are also issues of lack of much needed skills for our community mediators. They need more training in order for them to be be able to do their work better. The are normally chosen on the basis of their trustfullness, so they have to be empowered to better serve their communities.”

Ngabonziza futher highlighted issues of people who are ignorant of the law, especially laws that affect their day to day lives like the family law and the law on land, saying that “there are a lot of people who don’t get justice not because it was denied to them, but because they don’t know what the law provides for.”

The Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States to Rwanda Deb MacLean, stressed the need to build societies of people who understand their rights.

“I think the rule of law and access to justice is incredibly important and it builds on some of the basic human righst that people have in terms of being able to take care of themselves, and also having knowledge that the Government is going to ensure it is fair and treats people equally,” MacLean told members of the press shortly after launching the project.

“Having a solid foundation of justice is incredibly important, that is why this program by enabling people to know what their legal rights are and the ability to have that access to justice no matter where you live, if you live in a big city or a small village, it is also important for people to have legal representation”, she added.

Deb MacLean speaking to journalists after launching the project

Nyagatare, Rwamagana, Gicumbi, Rusizi and Nyarugenge Districts will be specifically targeted for mobile legal aid clinics, Abunzi capacity building and legal aid in prisons.

The project will be implemented by the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) in consortium with Haguruka NGO, Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), Lawyers of Hope (LoH) and Dignité en Détention (DiDe).

According to Mr Andrew Kananga, the Executive Director of LAF, the Bar Association will be instrumental in providing legal assistance to underprivileged people where they will get legal representation for free, the Lawyers of Hope will take care of the rights of prisoners, especially those incarcerated in Mageragere Prison, where they will work with DiDe’s existing Mvura Nkuvure program which offers trauma healing services.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the foreign assistance agency of the United States Government. It supports $129 million of development assistance annually to Rwanda, with programs in health, economic development, education, and democracy and governance.

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