South Kivu, like most places in the world, experiences a myriad of small-scale local crimes, However, ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC has resulted in a lack of access to judicial response and many of these disputes are unaddressed. Without intervention, this can quickly escalate to violence, heightened tensions and cyclical retribution.
In 2010, as an alternative to the national justice system, nine peace courts, dubbed “Barazas”, were created in the South Kivu region by Foundation Chirezi (FOCHI), a small local Congolese NGO. The Barazas, ( a Swahili word for “gathering’), offer a network of community-led, participatory courts aimed at local conflict resolution through open dialogue, peer mediation and reconciliation. The courts attempt to provide fair, accessible and non-punitive justice for rural village residents in the region.
Peace court resolutions, decided by consensus, may include private or public apology, work or payment. This collaborative justice process successfully reduces violence, rebuilds trust in the judicial system, and encourages mobilization. In addition, the Baraza system also includes all female peace courts, encouraging a safe place for local women to bring forth issues such as sexual and domestic violence, often felt to be private matters. As a result, female empowerment was rated as the second greatest impact of the program.
According to the project funders, Peace Direct, the Barazas have successfully resolved over 1,500 cases, directly benefitting over 3,000 people and indirectly affecting 15,000 more. Peacebuilding techniques promoted and supported by Barazas have proven to increase collaboration between men and women, between civilians and ex-combatants, and between communities and the authorities. FOCHI’s ultimate goal is the extension of Baraza peace courts across all five districts of South Kivu, totalling 175. This project expansion aims to continue to help remedy past atrocities, rebuild communities, and support local justice towards a sustainable peace.
Click here to read a recent evaluation by Peace Direct.
- By Colleen O'Sullivan, who is currently studying Cultural Anthropology at the University of Illinois-Chicago