Bridging the gap between formal and informal justice mechanisms in Burundi

BurundiLocal justiceNews

Bujumbura, 20 March 2018 – At the start of March the first discussion workshop was held with ninety lawyers from the two bar associations of Burundi, selected to take part in the ASF “Menya Utunganirwe” (“Know and Assert Your Rights”) project. The main objective was to raise awareness among the lawyers of the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Not covered as part of their training, ADR mechanisms are not well-known to lawyers. ASF nonetheless considers them an essential tool for resolving conflicts and believes that lawyers have a vital role to play in their promotion. In Burundi, ADR (such as mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) exists in law, but these mechanisms are not often used by lawyers. Salvator Kiyuku, President of the Bujumbura Bar Association, believes that “the lack of access to justice makes it difficult to meet the needs of lawyers and citizens alike.” Here, “lawyers are given the opportunity to provide a way forward, to give people a voice, and to play a social role to assist people who are suffering.” To meet the needs of the people of Burundi, justice must be approached in a broad manner, which goes beyond its institutional and formal aspects; it must be reconciliatory, transforming destructive conflict into an opportunity to build lasting peace for the future. There are many advantages to this approach: this form of justice is less costly in terms of both time and money, gives control to the parties in conflict, and protects confidentiality. Céline Laloux, ASF Strategy and Development Coordinator, invited the lawyers to “open up their customs and practices, to be ‘lawyers without borders’, in order to gradually bridge the gap between formal and informal justice mechanisms, so that they can complement each other.” Jean Bosco Bigirimana, President of the Gitega Bar Association, added that “a bad settlement is better than a good court case.” This remark caused quite a stir among the lawyers! The discussion about ADR raised a number of questions about the role of lawyers within society and about perceptions of their profession: “If the parties come to an agreement without the lawyer pleading the case, will the lawyer still be paid?”, for example, or “The client won’t think that they have won if there is no ruling in court.” Longin Baranyizigiye, ASF Research and Training Coordinator, responded that, in practice, lawyers must be well-informed and draw up a framework with their client. “If the outcome is positive for relations between the parties, the client will be satisfied, and the lawyer’s skills will be recognised,” he explained. He invited the lawyers to develop innovative good practices when they are accompanying clients in conciliation proceedings. “For the lawyer, it’s an opportunity to break away from the rigid framework of the formal procedures and demonstrate their talent and creativity in the service of their client.”
The five-year (2017–2021) “Menya Utunganirwe” project is funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation and carried out by ASF, the bar associations of Bujumbura and Gitega, the Association pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme, and the Association des Femmes Juristes.
Picture © ASF/H. Talbi