Community conversations for local justice
Nov 25, 2021
Programme supported by UNDP and the UN Joint Justice Programme explores new ways to widen access to justice and resolve community disputes
In 2019, the UN Joint Justice Programme began facilitating community-led discussions in five Federal Member States to find local solutions to shared issues of justice, security, and land use.
Under this initiative, “community conversations” of up to 50 or more local people took place under the guidance of local community facilitators who had been trained on how to enable free and open discussions. By April 2021, more than 8,000 community members (including 4,500 women) had taken part in Garowe, Baidoa, Jowhar, Kismayo Dhusamareb.
Communities identified common concerns, which included sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), high rates of crime, land disputes and the lack of effective and trustworthy local justice and police services. Facilitators then encouraged participants to unpack the root causes, allowing them to explore the control of powerful clans over justice and security institutions, the role of gender and social norms and the involvement of powerful individuals and militias in land grabs. However, the communities seemed reluctant to delve to deeply into some sensitive issues, such as violence at the community level and Al-Shabaab.
Sessions also focused on finding solutions and participants were increasingly able to identify practical, community-led responses with, where necessary, the involvement of local authorities. Some participants started to submit individual cases for discussion (particularly land or domestic disputes) and solutions found together with the community reinforced social cohesion and reduced division along clan lines. In other sessions, participants discussed broader issues of security and justice, such as agreeing methods of community-police interaction, engaging with police to patrol specific areas and engaging with local youth gang leaders to reduce crime.
This report Community Conversations: Harnessing the power of communities to solve security, justice and land issues analyses the impact, successes and challenges of the initiative.
Key findings include:
· NGOs played a key role in mobilizing the community and local authorities but their responsibilities would need to be redefined to enable communities to take over and organize sessions.
· Non-payment of incentives was challenging at first but continuing participation showed genuine community interest and bodes well for future sustainability.
· Community conversations created space for community members to share painful stories in a supportive environment that could contribute to the healing process.
· Enabling communities to reflect on shared issues and find solutions together strengthened social cohesion and gave participants a sense of the changes they can realise when they work together.
· While power imbalances and bias were still reflected in the sessions (such as women participants’ initial reluctance to contribute), changes occurred over time with more participation from women as well as minority clans.
· The sessions deepened understanding of justice and security issues but communities were reluctant to delve deeper on some particularly sensitive topics,n such as the control of powerful clans over justice and security institutions .
· The fact that community conversations could solve individual cases where there was a strong power imbalance between parties suggests they could serve as a framework for a new social contract.
· While master trainers and community facilitators were trained and mentored, sustained investment is required over time to build transformative leadership skills.
· Community conversations demonstrated the need for conflict resolution mechanisms that address power imbalances (such as restorative justice mechanisms) and for communities to address their past and establish community-based transitional justice mechanisms, for which community conversations could be an entry point.
The report also offers a number of recommendations, including:
· Organize one or two ‘review and reflect’ sessions in each site to assess (a) whether community conversations have complied with the principles of mutual respect, diversity and tolerance and (b) how actions carried out by communities following the sessions have affected justice, security and land issues.
· Select a group of 10 to 12 resource persons from the master trainers and community facilitators who can be trained for 3-5 years on transformational leadership and Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
· Strengthen capacities in Nonviolent Communication among resource people and community members to give them the tool to find win-win solutions to issues that might otherwise divide the community such as controle of clan over justice and police institutions
· Strengthen cooperation between the community conversation initiative and alternative dispute resolution centres.
· Support restorative justice mechanisms in these centres or restorative practices mechanisms within local municipalities as a means of addressing power imbalances and improving relationships.
· Use the community conversations forum to start discussions on how to deal with the past, including the establishment of locally based transitional justice mechanisms.
For more on UNDP’s work through the UN Joint Justice Programme, see: https://www.so.undp.org/content/somalia/en/home/projects/somalia-justice-programme.html
For our work on Rule of law more generally, visit: https://www.so.undp.org/content/somalia/en/home/democratic-governance-and-peacebuilding/rule-of-law.html