24th of August – 27th of September
Author: Hélène Flaam
During this field trip, Hélène Flaam joined the local research team of SAIPED in the Dungu territory, Haut-Uele. A range of respondents, justice providers, promoters and beneficiaries were interviewed. Respondents included customary chiefs, representatives of civil society and humanitarian organizations, lawyers, police officers, state officials, camp chiefs, and of course IDPs themselves. Furthermore, almost 400 respondents participated in a survey that covered justice issues and experiences of litigants. IDPs as well as non-displaced people were questioned.
The situation here is quit different than around Faradje, which is a more remote area than Dungu. After the LRA attacks in 2008, known as the Christmas massacres, Dungu was overwhelmed with international NGOs and agencies. However, since last year, its number is decreasing rapidly.
In Dungu, a peace court is installed, but not fully operational yet. It has the infrastructure, a president of the peace court, 2 magistrates and 3 judges, including one female judge. Seen the fact that Congolese law does not recognize witchcraft and that customary courts are not allowed to handle cases, the president of the peace court made an arrangement with the customary court and allowed them to treat traditional (witchcraft) cases in which no one was murdered or wounded. And they continue to do so. State and customary justice seem to work in synergy.
The Azande people have a long-lasting tradition and reputation of traditional practices and witchcraft. Until today, these practices persist in the Dungu territory. Even high-educated people go to ‘witches’ in cases of conflict or any other problem. In case of theft for example, victims appeal to these practices to get to know who was the thief. Or when a child dies without any visible cause, the family looks for answers on whom casted a bad spell on the family. False accusations are widespread and the accused are often chased out of the village or ‘purified’ trough traditional ceremonies. However, false accusations are also frequent.
All IDP camps in Dungu have a ‘camp chief’, trying to arrange disputes within the camp. We see much more conflicts and disputes between IDPs and the host population, than in Faradje. A possible explanation could be the ethnic mix of the camp populations (both Azande and Gbangba are living in the camps, which historically have known several conflicts). Some camps suffer more from harassments and conflicts over land ownership, access to fields, or access to basic services and to firewood.
There is also a considerable difference in access to justice between remote areas and urban centers such as Dungu. People’s daily life experiences often need ‘access to justice’, which obviously means a lot more than ‘access to court’. People seek answers to their concerns, and find ways to manage daily struggles, through tradition, amicable arrangements, witchcraft, police, state courts or even military. There is a multitude of possibilities in urban centers, but a great lack of opportunities in remote areas, which limits people’s access to justice.