DRC in the community

In pursuit of our mission to improve access to justice, DRC has worked extensively with civil society to enhance and build their capacity to manage and resolve disputes outside the court system.      

What is access to justice?
For the majority of people in Africa and many other parts of the world, courts are not accessible: geographically, financially or psychologically:

  • they are too far away
  • it costs too much money to keep travelling distances there and back
  • it takes people away from their businesses for too many days of adjournments and meetings with lawyers
  • lawyers' fees mount up the longer the case sits in the court
  • the Magistrate or judge may conduct the process in a language unknown or only partially understood by the litigant
  • courts can be very austere and intimidating with no one to explain what's gong on an illiterate litigant or defendant will struggle with documentation or just have no idea what's going on
  • an accused may not know who to ask for guidance or how to apply for bail

What kinds of disputes occur in the community
In many communities, local leaders are now overwhelmed by the number of cases brought to them by members of the community and are constrained to give sufficient time to them all.  Moreover, the complexity of some intra- and inter-community disputes requires specific skills to be able to manage or resolve them effectively.  

  • Neighbours may be arguing about noise or the position of a fence
  • A community may be complaining about development of a property
  • A community may be refusing another community access to public resources, such as a waterhole

How does DRC help
In response to these barriers to justice and the need to empower communities to handle more of their own disputes, DRC has been working with civil society:

Post election violence in Kenya

  • In the aftermath of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, DRC partnered with Uzima Foundation to deliver a series of short programmes to sensitise local leaders to the benefits of negotiation and mediation and to offer introductory skills
  • With the massive loss of inter-tribal trust following the post-election violence of early 2008, DRC has helped fund and conduct community rebuilding courses in both Western Kenya and Central Province.  With senior representatives from opposite sides of the fence present, the courses provide an opportunity for appreciating the perspectives of others involved in the conflict.  The programmes are conducted in such a way as to make it easy for participants to absorb salient key concepts of conflict resolution which they can then pass on to others in their communities.  

Community awareness of mediation

  • DRC piloted an introductory programme in conflict resolution for a DANIDA-funded initiative in Abossi, Transmara and Kisumu Districts which introduced community leaders to the concept of mediation and non-adversarial dispute resolution as a complementary to existing mechanisms

Provision of skills for communities and their stakeholders

  • Since 2003, DRC has worked with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Frankfurt Zoo in empowering Park Wardens and community conservation rangers in Rwanda, Uganda and Eastern Congo to prevent, manage and resolve human/wildlife issues in a conflict-torn region.    
  • With scholarship funding from the EU, DRC conducted lengthy research into the operations of Water Resource Users Associations around Mount Kenya.  Working on the assumption that dispute prevention is the best cure for conflict, the Associations bring together consumers of water from the same river system, thus enabling them to appreciate the problems of a shared resource from the different perspectives of all users. 

Helping government and national institutions work with the communities

  • Inspired by the 30 year old Madaripur mediation model in Bangladesh, Penal Reform International invited DRC to devise a mediation model for rural communities in Malawi.  Through the Malawi Paralegal Services Institute (PASI), who had already pioneered a paralegal programme within the penal system, DRC's Director (Brenda Brainch) developed a Village Mediation Programme to teach villagers the skills of mediation in their own language and provide ongoing support in administration, monitoring and mentoring so as to resolve disputes in their own communities.  The Programme, which has been endorsed by formal institutions and welcomed by local government and Chiefs, is built within existing PASI structures and includes Diversion both to and from the formal system.   Materials have been developed to accommodate low literacy.  A 12-month pilot (2008/9) was supported by the Danish Institute for Human Rights and funded by Irish Aid.  As the programme has been designed as generic, rollout to other Districts and countries is anticipated.  
    Read more:
  • The government of Sierra Leone's Justice Sector Reform Strategy and report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission refer to mediation as key to addressing access to justice at all levels.  Their Justice Sector Development Programme (JSDP), funded by DfID and managed by the British Council, is partnering with a local NGO to build a Community Mediation Programme in rural and urban communities in collaboration with PASI Malawi. Brenda Brainch of DRC is retained by the British Council to work in this partnership to establish a 2-year programme which is endorsed by government and welcomed at the local level.

Communities in a business environment

  • The Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO) of the World Bank addresses complaints from communities affected adversely by IFC-funded projects.  Through CAO's association with the African Mediation Association (AfMA), DRC was contracted to assist in responding to complaints from the Webuye community in Western Kenya about the negative impact of Pan Paper Mills' operation on the local environment.  Intial meetings were held with community representatives and the management of Pan Paper Mills which opened doors to  improved communication and monitoring pending further intervention and assistance by CAO/DRC.  
    Read more at: under Case Studies. Click on link to Sub-Sahara and then to Kenya.



‘If the motto 'and justice for all' becomes 'and justice for those who can afford it', we threaten the very underpinnings of our social contract’
Chief Justice Ronald George California Supreme Court, Annual "State of Judiciary" Speech, 2001
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2009 Dispute Resolution Centre
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