July 29, 2019

Keys for access to justice in the Central African Republic

Central African Republic (the)Access to justice and developmentHuman rights defendersLocal justiceNews

Access to justice is a serious problem in the Central African Republic. That is the key finding in a study Avocats sans Frontières has just published. Analysis of the situation on the ground has revealed difficulties in access to lawyers and to a state justice system of adequate quality. Those are the reasons why citizens avoid the formal state system, and instead, turn to local chiefs, religious leaders, non governmental organisations and others. ASF recommends that development agencies draft and implement robust strategies to achieve sustainable improvements. And for them to be successful, these strategies must include all the actors involved, both formal and informal.

Inadequate state justice system

The justice system in the CAR was already fragile before the crisis in 2013. It subsequently collapsed. State tribunals are sparse outside the capital, making it very difficult to get access to legal help. Security services often set themselves up as the primary handlers of legal aid. However, they do not have the requisite competences, and they handle cases internally. Furthermore, there are many reports of corruption, extortion, intimidation and random detentions in the course of their activities.

Lack of access to lawyers

The cost of legal services, the lack of points of access, and the type of case lawyers prefer to handle (mainly relating to property and business), means that most citizens simply cannot get affordable access to legal services. Nevertheless, they trust lawyers. Citizens say they are willing to take their cases to lawyers, providing the legal services available are affordable.

Informal systems are a widespread alternative

Given the lack of access to formal services, many citizens turn to neighbourhood alternatives to resolve disputes. Village chiefs, neighbourhood chiefs, and religious leaders are among those solicited. These avenues are more accessible than formal systems, but there are nevertheless problems. There are conflicts regarding competences, and confusion among the chiefs administering justice. There have also been reports of discrimination, corruption and intimidation in the exercise of such alternative systems.

Recommendation: treat the problems holistically

ASF has observed that many strategies to remedy the situation are limited to improving official state systems. It recommends that actors such as major donors wanting to improve accessibility to justice treat current problems holistically. That means involving both formal and informal structures in order to create stable, sustainable systems. The reality on the ground is that there are established informal structures. Any strategy that does not involve them will fail. Avocats sans Frontières has carried out numerous projects in CAR since 2015. This report is its latest contribution to attaining and promoting better access to justice in the country. To read more about these studies, follow this link.
Photos © ASF / Gaïa Fisher – Cynthia Benoist

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