5 Traditional African Justice Systems More Humane than the Prison Industrial Complex

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Photo: NYTimes.com
Photo: NYTimes.com

Court Systems

To promote justice and reconciliation in Rwandan post genocide and combat the overwhelming number of individuals awaiting trial in the national courts, a traditional grassroots court system called Gacaca (pronounced GA-CHA-CHA) was revived in 2005.

In this system, local communities elected judges to hear the trials of genocide perpetrators. If these individuals showed remorse and sought to be reconciled with their communities, their sentences were lesser than those that weren’t repentant.

The Gacaca trials, like TRC served to promote truth telling and promote reconciliation between victims and offenders.

In Ethiopia there is a court system that is central to both the environment and the economy referred to as the Well Counsel. Because there is a scarcity of surface water, wells – or leas, as they are locally called – are extremely important, especially in pastoral communities.

Wells are a communal resource; so all members of the community have equal rights and access to them. But because water is scarce, there is a large potential for conflict. The Counsel, made of elected members of the community, is put in place to handle disputes if they arise. If the counsel is not able to handle them, community elders will step in. This system has been maintained for centuries without formal government involvement.

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