Our time here at the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) is winding down and Jesse and I are putting the final touches on the benchbook we compiled on gender-based violence. We have spent the last nine weeks interviewing experts and professionals in the legal community in Rwanda and researching gender-based violence in general. Last Wednesday we presented a draft of our work to the Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of Rwanda, and our impression was that he was pleased with our findings and encouraged by the future prospect of using benchbooks in Rwanda. The Deputy Chief Justice said that he expects Rwandan judges to benefit from having a practical resource to use during trials, in particular for recent graduates entering the judiciary.
Institute of Legal Practice and Development in Nyanza, Rwanda
Graduating law students in Rwanda choose to become prosecutors, defense attorneys, or judges directly out of law school. This process will help Rwanda replenish the judiciary that was decimated during the genocide, but also places recent graduates with little or no experience in court to hear and decide cases. The ILPD aims to strengthen the justice sector in Rwanda and does so by providing practical legal training for judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys from all levels of experience. The goal of our project (initially chosen as a pilot to test whether Rwanda should introduce benchbooks), will hopefully further the Institute’s goal and further strengthen the effectiveness of the judiciary. In addition, if our project proves useful, the ILPD may produce additional benchbooks, which will allow the Institute to reach more students than the current 38 seats the ILPD handles per intake class.
Our time here at the ILPD has been great and we have made many new friends among the students. In conversation with the students we regularly talk about how law promotes development and it is exciting to think about Rwanda’s future as more trained judges and lawyers enter the workforce here. Throughout our interviews we regularly heard that the shortage of judges and prosecutors are contributing to the rise in overcrowded prisons, since pre-trial detentions can last for several years as prosecutors build cases against the accused. Instituting mechanisms such as benchbooks will hopefully ease some of this and other burdens on the legal system by helping judges hear and decide cases more efficiently.
Hillside in Kigali
Aside from research and writing the benchbook, Jesse and I have enjoyed trips to various places in Rwanda and Burundi over the weekends. A clear highlight of the trip was visiting the mountain gorillas in the north-western mountain region of Rwanda. We also took trips to the beautiful Lake Kivu, which forms the western border of Rwanda, and to Bujumbura on Lake Tanganyika in Burundi. A personal highlight for me was being stuck on the side of the road for a few hours after the bus I was taking from Lake Kivu back to Kigali broke down. Generally, this sort of thing can ruin a day and erase the relaxation felt after a morning of swimming and sunning by a lake. Fortunately for me, we happened to breakdown 100 meters or so from where a children’s church group was practicing and I ended up enjoying a private concert of singing and traditional dance as I waited for a bus to pick us up.
Overlooking Lake Kivu
All in all, I will be sad to leave, but happy knowing that good things are happening in the justice sector in Rwanda's. We met with many good people dedicated to improving the rule of law with the goal of promoting development, which will allow residents and tourists alike to enjoy the rich natural beauty here. If you have a chance to visit, I recommend that you do.