Thursday July 17 2014

Embrace alternative dispute resolution

By George Murokore

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a legal concept, which in simple terms denotes settling a dispute out of courts of law, through mediation, arbitration and negotiation. In other words, parties to a dispute agree to negotiate through a mediator and reach an amicable solution. This process is also applicable in the refugee communities, especially in domestic violence and other family issues, in civil matters like chicken crossing over into a neighbour’s garden and compensation thereafter, and in debt collections.

This process also applies to petty crimes such as chicken theft and minor fights and is always presided over by refugee community leaders/refugee welfare committees. ADR is the most due process desired by majority refugees compared to the normal litigation processes in courts. This is because refugees in Uganda originate from countries with different legal regimes and are often unaware of the legal processes and procedures in Uganda.

Language barrier is also a big issue when it comes to court processes; getting substantial sureties for bail applications is equally difficult for refugees; courts are usually far from refugee settlements and transporting witnesses and complainants to testify is a very big challenge.

All the above contribute to miscarriage of justice, including unduly long periods in detention without trial. Whereas there are formal (including police, court and prisons) and informal (refugee welfare committees, Local Councils and service providers, such as UNHCR, OPM and other operational and implement partners) justice-seeking systems’ experience in serving refugees has shown that refugees prefer the informal justice systems.

In other words, refugees prefer ADR through their local leaders as mediators and arbitrators because the process is much faster and done immediately within their respective zones, villages and camp communities.
Their leaders are also members of their communities who understand their specific issues better; they speak the same languages with their leaders and generally, the process is much more friendly to them. There is, therefore, need to strengthen these informal justice systems through empowering the local leaders for proper administration of access to justice in forced migration communities.