As many refugees stream back to their home territories in Congo since the (tentative) end of major hostilities, there is a great need for legal structures that will help returning families re-integrate and repatriate. Since the judicial system is slow and overburdened, it is very difficult for repatriating refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to find legal assistance.
Thus, in order to combat these problems facing marginalized peoples in the rural milieu, Arche d’Alliance has created Comités de Médiation et Conciliation, or CMCs, in 24 different towns across the territories of Uvira and Fizi. The CMC, a committee of ten, consists of local municipal leaders, representatives from women’s groups, a representative from the FARDC, a representative from the police, and other notable community and tribal leaders. The CMC functions as an alternative resolution center for minor disputes involving property, harvests, debts, inheritances, and domestic quarrels. An individual can bring their grievance to the CMC, which then investigates the matter from both sides and renders a non-binding, reasoned decision that it asks both parties to follow. If one or both of the parties refuses to follow the decision, the CMC will pass the case off to Arche d’Alliance to be heard in court in Uvira. An important aspect of a CMC’s decision is that it follows the letter of the law, since Arche d’Alliance trains the CMC on Congolese law and the rights guaranteed marginalized peoples (such as repatriating refugees and women) by the Congolese Constitution.
In addition, the CMC acts as an information distribution center; the CMC will help provide citizens of the community with information on public health, security, the constitution, and, if they are refugees, how they can go about reclaiming their land and reintegrate.
This past week I had the opportunity to visit the CMC in Luvungi, a small town about 40 minutes drive from Uvira, near the border with Rwanda. I was visiting with Jean Mushaho and Martin Masumbuko, two Arche inqueteurs who make weekly visits to Luvungi. The CMC in Luvungi is managed by Givernal Twaibu, a locally-based Arche d’Alliance inqueteur. Givernal and the Luvungi CMC explained to me that they have heard 80 cases since the beginning of the year. They also told me that nine times out of ten parties agree to the decision of the CMC; people in Congo are not opposed to well-reasoned conflict resolution, it is just that structures that facilitate such resolutions have long been absent.
Since the CMC is required to have several woman representatives, there is balance and justice for women.
“Respecting women’s rights is very important,” said Luvungi CMC member Nestorine Seremba, a nurse at a local dispensaire, “In Congo, the woman is the center of the family.”
One crucial service that Arche provides to returning refugees is assisting them in obtaining birth certificates for their children that were born abroad, in refugee camps in Tanzania, Burundi, and Zambia. Acquiring proper documentation is necessary if repatriating refugees want to send their children to school or make sure their children inherit their property someday. Using the CMC as a local base, Arche helps refugees gain birth certificates for their children. Arche will visit a CMC once a week, collect the necessary information, file for the documents in Uvira, and then bring them to the CMC once they are completed.
The day I was in Luvungi, a group of villagers from Katubota, a small village 10 km away, came to collect birth certificates for their children. Jean Mashaho explained to me that it would be very difficult for these villagers to get birth certificates without assistance from Arche. Normally, obtaining a birth certificate would require a trip to Uvira, filling out lots of forms, paying lots of fees, and waiting around for the notoriously slow Congolese bureaucracy.
In something as small and simple as helping refugees get documents for their children, Arche is helping re-weave civil society in Eastern Congo. This goes a long way in preventing conflict in the long run.
The CMC in Luvungi has been around since 2006, and its services attract people from villages as far as 30 km away. In creating CMCs across South Kivu, Arche d’Alliance has laid down the foundations for justice and peaceful conflict transformation in a region that is desperately trying to escape chaos. Even though Eastern Congo can sometimes feel like the Wild Wild West, the CMC is like the Lone Ranger, an example of justice and peace that everyone can follow and admire.