"I will no longer stand for hours to preside over village court sessions": A Simple Improvement to Justice in PNG's Highlands
Village Court Magistrate Kiap Brian Buka from Topa Village welcomes new additions to multi-purpose community hall.
Kiap Buka has been working in the Village Court System from the time he was a young man. Kiap recalled that 40 years ago when he was a Peace Officer in the Village Court System, his community of Tulum Village had a Community Centre where cases from about 8 different council wards where heard. The Community Centre was built during the colonial era and had been outfitted with a table, chairs and long wooden seats.
Kiap was proud to be part of that Village Court System then, and still is.
Eventually the system died out and population and social problems increased over time. The village court areas received minimal attention and faced financial constraints. The old Community Centre deteriorated over the years and there was little or no hope for the Village Court Magistrates to have it replaced or rehabilitated. to Village Court officials resorted to presiding over village court cases under huge trees or in other areas of the community, including at the sides of trade stores that have long front overhanging roofs. “Rain, cold and crowds usually disrupted the court processes,” said Kiap. “I found it difficult to understand know how the Village Court Clerk managed to write and keep records in such conditions,” he added.
“Now that I am a magistrate and quite old, my legs and knees hurt easily because I would stand for long hours listening to cases. I am grateful of your [IOM] assistance and I believe our plea was heard after you supported us with the materials to build this hall,” said Kiap. IOM provided materials and technical support to rebuild the Community Centre, once again providing a venue conducive to conducting village court sessions.
Kiap Brian Buka can now sit comfortably on a chair under their newly constructed multi-purpose community hall - in Topa Village in the Karinz Local Level Government of Mendi-Munihu District in Southern Highlands - used also to preside over village court cases.
IOM research on internal displacement cite conflict as a leading factor contributing to displacement in the Highlands and that the village court systems plays a crucial role in settling disputes at the local level. Building upon the participatory planning process to ensure all ‘voices’ of community members are heard, particularly women and youth, IOM, with funding from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, worked hand in hand with the Topa community to develop a Community Peace and Development that engages all members of the community to actively participate in its implementation.
In acknowledgement of the community’s commitment to progressive growth and sustained peace, IOM supported the construction of a multi-purpose community hall identified by the community as a priority project. Community members highlighted that a community hall would provide a communal gathering place to discuss and achieve consensus on important issues, plan for sustainable development initiatives and conduct trainings.
Community members from Topa expressed their gratitude to the Papua New Guinea Government (national and sub-national) and IOM for their support in promoting sustainable development and strengthening local capacities for peace in Topa. “I can now rest sit comfortable on a chair and preside over village court sessions. I will not worry anymore of the sun, the cold wind or the rains. We have an office now to keep our court records and other documents safely,” noted Kiap.