27 January 2017

Rwanda: New Efforts Rolled Out to Promote Arbitration

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/New Times
Chief Justice Sam Rugege (R) gives his remarks as Emily J. Gould, Esq Co-director, African Peace partners, looks on in Kigali.

New efforts have been rolled out to enhance the capacity of mediators to help reduce the number of cases going to courts.

This was announced in Kigali at the opening of a three-day seminar bringing together US mediators, Rwandan justice stakeholders and lawyers on Wednesday.

The seminar, organised by Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC) in partnership with African Peace Partners and justice sector stakeholders, opened on Wednesday in Kigali.

The seminar aims at exploring strategy to expand use of mediation in the country and introduce Rwandan justice stakeholders to international best practices.

It is part of a larger mediation capacity building project to support Rwanda's mediation policy, according to organisers.

Opening the seminar, the Chief Justice, Professor Sam Rugege, said mediators in Rwanda at the community level only handle disputes that do not require high-level skills.

He said the capacity building partnership would create professional mediators who can handle complex disputes.

Community level mediators (Abunzi) can only handle a case that involves not more than Rwf3m.

But with professional mediators, they would be handling any kind of disputes since they are trained, introduced to laws, and certified.

"People are only aware of grassroots level mediation handling disputes but are not aware of professional mediation at high-level that can handle critical or big disputes which really works in other countries. We want to move to professional mediation to reduce the number of disputes referred to courts. It saves money and time invested by people involved in such disputes," Rugege said.

He said mediation also facilitates reconciliation of two parties as opposed to when they are engaged in court battles.

Stakeholders are learning about different fields, notably commercial mediation, family mediation, trauma informed mediation, and employment mediation, among others.

Prof. Rugege explained that Rwanda's experience in Gacaca courts and mediation at the local level (Abunzi system) have shown that both restorative justice (community based) as well as mediation and arbitration processes can lessen conflict when people voluntarily make sustainable and self-enforced agreements.

Dr Fidele Masengo, the executive Director and Ag Secretary General of KIAC, said: "We charge fees in arbitration and are planning to introduce such charges on professional mediation because we pay the lawyers."

Despite the charges, he added, it is still cheap compared to when parties go to courts.

"With mediation, a case can last one day and when it takes longer it is less than six months," he said.

Masengo said since they started four years ago, they have handled 52 cases by arbitration, a low number compared to 300 trained and certified arbitrators.

He said they have trained 30 professional mediators, while 25 cases were handled especially through cooperatives, associations, commercial, cases among others.

Reducing backlog in courts

The seminar is also discussing the use of plea bargaining practiced in many jurisdictions.

Plea bargaining is an arrangement between prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop other charges.

"We should promote plea bargaining, which can help reduce backlog in criminal cases in courts, sentence and the number of detentions. As we look to rewrite both criminal and civil procedure, restorative justice mechanisms should be considered," he said.

The fifth Justice, Reconciliation, Law and Orders Sector (JRLOS) peer review, held in March 2016, recommended compulsory mediation in civil matters and plea-bargaining in criminal matters.

JRLOS was established on the premise that there is a link between justice and social cohesion through justice promoting reconciliation.

Judge Daniel Weinstein, one of the speakers from US, talked about the value of mediation and the role it plays in supporting investment while reducing cost of doing business for both government and the private sector.

He said they are sharing US professional mediation experiences with legal and governmental community of Rwanda to be able to explore potential of mediation in its legal system.

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