4 – 25th of April
Author Hélène Flaam
During a three-week period of fieldwork, Hélène Flaam joined the team of local researchers in Faradje. APRu has been a research partner of the Conflict Research Group since 2012, and has developed an extensive knowledge on local socio-political and military dynamics and justice needs. For this fieldwork a survey was developed that aimed at getting a better understanding of justice issues and justice needs of IDPs, which have been displaced because of LRA activities. Once the survey was modified and tested on the ground and the researchers trained, 300 respondents were questioned in 12 different sites in the Faradje territory. Together with the support of local authorities and the perseverance of the APRu-team, the research turned out to be a huge success.
Additional interviews and focus group discussions with IDPs were carried out in camps and villages to fine-tune the survey findings and to get a more complete picture on IDP’s access to justice. Participants included local authorities, village chiefs, NGO workers, human rights activists, justice providers, police and military..
Most IDPs in Faradje have left their homes in 2008-2009 due to the very brutal LRA campaign, which is also known as the ‘Christmas massacres’. Until today, insecurity persists in some areas, refraining people to return back to their villages of origin. Most of these people reside in IDP camps, near the main road or in village centres. Others are integrated in the villages.
Our research showed that after several years of displacement, numerous conflicts have developed and needs for justice grew, which explains why today in most IDP camps, a multitude of justice mechanisms have developed. IDP camps mostly have their own camp chief, who was elected soon after the arrival of the IDPs. However, this election in most cases has been imposed by international NGOs, such as UNHCR and LWF, for logistical reasons and to facilitate the distribution of emergency aid. Most humanitarians today have left, but camp chiefs remained in place and still are the focal point to deal with all sorts of issues concerning IDPs in the camp, including justice demands. In some cases, an IDP committee has been formed, composed by elders and chiefs that gives advice in case of conflicts and allow former village chiefs to keep their authority position and perform their role. In some cases, IDPs organized themselves and created their own security mechanisms or local policing guards, organizing night patrols and weekly reunions. However, the existence of these mechanisms often creates conflicts with local authorities and chiefs in the host village, who claim their authority over IDP populations.
Justice in Faradje
Despite the fact that every territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo is supposed to have a functioning peace court (tripaix), until today this is not the case for Faradje, where a peace court was created but is not fully operational yet. There’s only one magistrate, working as a judge at the same time. Due to infrastructural issues and lack of personnel, this ‘semi-‘ peace court seems to do more harm than good. There’s a huge tension between the customary chiefs and the state justice system, which now has the legal obligation to deal with all cases. So the arrival of state justice, reduced considerably the power of customary chiefs. One issue that creates confusion is witchcraft, which is not recognized by Congolese law but continues to be a major source of tension and to be dealt with by customary authorities.
Also, the population contests this newly installed justice system, and since April 2015 until September 2015, it organized three prison breaks, freeing all prisoners. The first one in April was the result of an arbitrary arrest, ordered by the magistrate. This caused much anger among the population, that was so fed up with him, that they went to prison to release all prisoners, many of which until today are walking around freely in Faradje. While others have left the territory. The major sources of dissatisfaction where with different cases of corruption, high fines and arbitrary arrests.
Given the existing confusion among the population about which authority can treat which cases, people increasingly rely on popular justice, witchcraft practices or amicable arrangements, even in cases of sexual violence. Of course other factors refrain Faradje’s population and especially the IDPs from seeking justice, such as distance, fear and costs. There is also a gender dimension to access to justice, with women rarely seeking access to justice mechanisms, which is perceived as men’s business. There exists a widely shared inferiority complex, which is culturally embedded. As a consequence, sexual violence and other gender-based issues are barely denounced or addressed.
Also IDPs in most have less access to justice than the host population. As they hardly meet the ends, they do not have the necessary means to file a complaint. So they rather prefer to arrange the issue amicably between the two parties, whether it concerns debts, abuse of trust, or even sexual violence. In most cases, the complaining party is provided with a compensation.
These are only preliminary findings, but it is already clear that the population in Faradje, and especially IDPs, suffer from the lack of progress in the justice reform. They prefer to flee from what they perceive as (in-)justice, and seek a solution to their problems and issues in non-state and informal forms of justice provision.