Developing a participatory barometer to improve the governance of justice in Guinea-Bissau

October 6, 2020

Justice in Guinea Bissau is considered as the foundation for peace between citizens. However, the poor functioning and administration of the judicial system, combined with issues of corruption and widespread impunity, overwhelmed the effective governance of the justice sector in the country. Traditional or informal justice practices are highly valued by the population in Guinea-Bissau and are deeply rooted in the costumes of different communities which rely on them for the resolution of many conflicts. Although these practices offer benefits in costs and physical accessibility, research has shown how these conflict resolution mechanisms disproportionately affect vulnerable sectors of the population.

The justice sector in Guinea-Bissau is, thus, very complex and characterized by a plurality of practices, where the formal justice system coexists with informal and traditional structures. The wide dissatisfaction with the sector, caused by negative factors and actors, both in formal and informal practices, points at the need for improvement. Over the past decade, there have been reforms to the justice sector, but the process has been plagued with recurrent challenges in its implementation. In this context, Interpeace and its local partner Voz di Paz, sought to create new mechanisms and capacities for an active citizenry, empowered to monitor, evaluate and advocate for adequate public policies in the justice sector. A key starting point was establishing a participatory barometer to provide credible, independent and representative data about the situation in the country, to contribute to an increased participation of citizens in local governance of justice.

The report entitled, ‚ÄúSintidu di justisa‚ÄĚ (The Sense of Justice) – Participatory barometer on the perceptions and experiences of the population: How to improve the governance of justice in Guinea-Bissau, presents the results of a research process carried out across the country between September 2018 and February 2020, engaging more than 4,250 people, including 3,400 direct interviews in 180 communities. The report highlights the main elements that make up the different dimensions of the justice sector, to better understand issues as the concept of justice, access to justice, the experience with justice proceedings, the role of citizens and the role of traditional justice mechanisms. Moreover, a gender analysis was also carried out as part of the initiative.

The overall findings of this initiative aim to provide a strong basis for structural improvements of the justice sector in Guinea Bissau. Participants described the formal justice procedures as neither sufficiently transparent nor egalitarian and identified some of the major obstacles preventing good governance in the justice sector, including corruption, limited access to justice, social and economic inequality, and a lack of trust in the judiciary system. Expressions like ‚ÄúGuinea-Bissau’s justice is applied only to the poor‚ÄĚ demonstrate the population’s perception of the justice system ‚Äď 55% of the participants think there is a lot of interference by influential people and 47% think influential people have a lot of impunity. While the fact that half of the population (54%) does not feel safe to report or testify, sheds light on real obstacles in justice practices.

The barometer does not only show the challenges and institutional weaknesses in Guinea-Bissau’s justice system, but also highlights the elements of the justice sector that are most relevant for the population. The vast majority of the population (91%) believes that some conflicts are best resolved through traditional justice, which is considered to be the best form of conflict resolution by 61%, because of its reconciliation capacity and its knowledge of reality. As a result, the majority of the population insists that the formal justice system must find ways to collaborate with the traditional system in conflict resolution. Therefore, the results of the barometer don’t point to a dichotomy or a dispute between formal and traditional justice. On the contrary, they signal the urgent need for collaborative and coordinated work between both systems.

In this sense, the study also formulates recommendations, solutions, measures, and essential actions to achieve the necessary changes in the justice sector in order to develop a system that is more effective and responds to the population’s needs.

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