In order to offer an alternative to this, FOCHI has promoted the creation of Baraza (a Swahili word meaning ‘gathering’), community-led justice courts that provide successful resolution to conflicts through participatory processes of dialogue and reconciliation. Baraza have been developed in nine villages and they have had a positive impact upon all the community where they operate. They have reduced violence and increased collaboration, trust and self-empowerment not only within the communities themselves, but also between the communities, local leaders and authorities, and the communities and local ex-rebel fighters.

Such direct action also works as an effective tool for future conflict prevention. Emerging conflicts are quickly identified and addressed, whilst the establishment of trust and collaboration between different parties creates an environment less conducive to intimidation and violence.

As projects are wholly initiated and led by the communities, FOCHI’s role is to provide support, structure and guidance whilst Peace Direct in London promotes this work and finds the necessary donors. I am here to capture the realities of Baraza justice and document them into an evidence-based project which provides proof to the success of this process and highlights the impact of the Barazas upon the stability of the region, an argument supported by practical recommendations for increasing project scale.

The Barazas are made up of four different groups of people who meet on a weekly basis: a democratically elected main committee (five people), a youth group (around ten people), a women’s group (around ten people) and remaining Baraza members of the community including civilians and ex-combatants.

Traditional wisdom is relied upon initially, but once principal roles have been established, FOCHI staff provide trainings in mediation and conflict resolution skills.

The women’s groups have recently developed separate female peace courts, in which issues felt to be private, such as marital rape, can be discussed openly without a male presence. The majority of conflicts addressed here are successfully resolved, but when a resolution is not reached the case is then taken to the main Baraza peace court.

Although each process is different the cases follow a similar pattern. When a conflict arises in the village it is brought by members of the community to one of the two peace court committees (main and female-only). At the peace court each party is given time to tell his story. Following this the committee then meet in private for fact-finding investigations and deliberation, the result of which is then relayed back to the accuser(s) and defendant(s). This can include private apology, public apology, work, payment, etc. When all parties agree with the decision of the judges, the community organises a reconciliation ceremony, in which the agreed resolution between the parties is publicly declared.

If one part has disagreed, time is given to digest the decision, following which the freedom of appeal is always given. However, once the peace court committee has given its decision, it is then viewed as the community decision and one which is unbreakable.  If it is not ultimately accepted, it can then proceed to the government magistrate where a FOCHI lawyer will then represent the party at the local tribunal.

Both peace courts attempt to find solutions to resolving the conflicts in a nonviolent manner, with emphasis upon dialogue and reconciliation in place of the normal penal justice system. In this way, conflicts which could result in harsh, and often violent, punishment are instead used as a chance to bring about collaboration between warring parties in a conflict resolution system which brings people together in search of mutually-beneficial peaceful solutions.

In the last month alone, 17 cases have been resolved successfully, one has rebounded, one is on-going, and one has been transferred from the Baraza in Luvungi to the tribunal in Uvira, where the lawyer is being financed by FOCHI.

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