Justice can be hard to come by in countries hit by conflict. To ensure that communities can settle disputes, and see criminals lawfully punished, UN peacekeeping missions support mobile courts, which travel to places where no regular court exists.
This may be because court buildings have been destroyed due to conflict, or because it is too unsafe for judges and personnel to stay permanently in a particular town or region. Mobile courts also sit in regions that are too remote for regular, permanent institutions, but can also temporarily sit in specific settings such as prisons.
To date, the UN has supported different forms of mobile courts in many different conflict settings, including in Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti, Liberia, Mali and Somalia. Two recent examples can be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. [Read about a recent case in Malakal in South Sudan here.
Alexandre Zouev is the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions. One of the responsibilities of his office is to help countries affected by conflict to re-establish the rule of law and security institutions necessary to build and sustain peace. UN News asked Mr. Zouev to explain in more detail how mobile courts operate, and how they can help such countries to recover a sense of normality.
What kind of crimes do mobiles courts cover?
Mobile courts, in principle, function like any other court in the regular justice system; the types of crimes they can prosecute accordingly varies and depends on each country’s legal framework and on the type of mobile court that is preferred by the authorities. However, because of their non-permanent nature, countries will often choose to limit the jurisdiction of these courts to more simple cases that can be treated in relatively short court sessions.
Importantly, mobile courts can also often consider non-criminal cases such as civil disputes and conflicts related to land rights, and play a role in birth and marriage registrations.
How do they contribute to peace and security?
Mobile courts in peacekeeping settings contribute to a range of goals. They are an instrument in the fight against impunity which often prevails in the remote regions where mobile courts operate and strengthen national accountability systems. They provide victims direct and easy access to justice, and the opportunity to see justice being done before their eyes; this in turn can play a role in community healing after conflicts, and also increase the trust people have in formal justice systems. Mobile courts contribute to the promotion of a peaceful society, as conflicts are settled through legal means rather than through violence. Through their roles in non-criminal cases (chiefly relating to land rights issues, which are well-known conflict drivers) these courts can play important roles in post-conflict normalization of society and build longer term stability. Finally, mobile courts are often accompanied by forms of outreach, which can inform the local population on a broad range of justice and reconciliation related issues.
While doing so, mobile courts contribute to the extension of state authority and improve the visibility of the state in remote regions, as mobile courts brings state officials into regions where they are not usually present; this in turn promotes peace and stability.