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UNLOCKING THE SYSTEM

Access to justice key to reducing radicalism

It is key to ensure people have adequate channels to address issues in a fair and just manner

In Summary

• To address the perception of injustice on security-related issues among individuals and communities, it becomes paramount to build trust between security agencies and communities by enhancing access to justice and respect for human rights.

•  By so doing, individuals and communities at risk will be disabused of a major push factor that is used by criminals and extremists to recruit into their ranks.

The scales of justice.
JUSTICE: The scales of justice.
Image: OZONE:

For years now, human rights organisation HAKI Africa has been working with local communities to prevent and counter crime and violent extremism.

During this period, the organisation has deduced that access to justice and respect for human rights play a big role in influencing people’s perception about security. In the face of injustices and human rights violations, individuals and communities distance themselves from mainstream norms, society and state institutions such as the police. This widens the gap between the affected individuals or communities and the general populace.

Such a situation contributes to a feeling of alienation and disenfranchisement, which becomes a push factor to crime and violent extremism. Injustices committed, therefore, largely aid a perception of not belonging.

From HAKI Africa’s work for example, pre-trial period — that is from point of arrest to when an individual is first presented in court — has been identified as critical in shaping people’s perception of justice within the security sector. In Kenya, this period is marred with lack of clarity on what is expected and more often than not, rampant and blatant human rights abuses.

To address the perception of injustice on security-related issues among individuals and communities, it becomes paramount to build trust between security agencies and communities by enhancing access to justice and respect for human rights.

By so doing, individuals and communities at risk will be disabused of a major push factor that is used by criminals and extremists to recruit into their ranks. When communities believe their issues are addressed and have faith in the justice system, we will have eliminated a major contributor to crime and violent extremism as well as radicalisation.

The Judiciary, which is at the apex of the justice system in the country, is the third arm of the State and its main responsibility is to interpret laws and make decisions on matters presented before it by litigants. Other key players in the justice system include the police, who enforce decisions of the courts, the prosecution which charges. the probation department, which addresses social welfare matters of suspects and prisons, which ensure those guilty serve their terms in jail.

There is need to work with all these institutions to play their roles and ensure the justice system serves everyone, including those from vulnerable communities.

Besides the courts, there are other forms of accessing justice. Alternative Justice Systems (AJS), Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms and Arbitration can also be used to resolve disputes and conflicts without necessarily going to court.

However, these mechanisms in most cases are known to the courts and most of their decisions would be considered should the matter end up in the Judiciary. Mediation, negotiation and reconciliation are other forms or practices that can be used locally to promote a sense of justice for individuals and communities.

HAKI Africa, in partnership with social justice centres and through the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, has worked with justice actors as well as communities at the Coast to prevent and counter crime and violent extremism through enhancing access to justice and building faith in the justice system.

Besides the formal justice system, HAKI Africa has also explored other forms of justice systems to offer alternatives to those who might not immediately access or get an opportunity to work with the formal justice system. Even for those already in the justice system, processes such as plea bargaining have been explored.

To address insecurity, including common crime and violent extremism, it is imperative to ensure affected individuals and communities have adequate channels of addressing their issues in a fair and just manner — be it through courts or other legal avenues.

We must build trust in our courts and enhance access to justice to present individuals at risk of crime and violent extremism with clear channels of litigating their grievances.

When our justice system works and all have faith in it, there will be no need for aggrieved persons to seek other crude and unorthodox means of getting justice.

To address insecurity in the country therefore, access to justice is key.

The writer is the director of HAKI Africa