Everyday Justice for the Internally Displaced in a Context of Fragility: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Kellie Leeson, Prem B. Bhandari, Anna Myers, and Dale Buscher

Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 33, Issue 1 (2020), Pages 86–106



This article examines the justice concerns of IDPs and the extent to which their rights are violated, and considers the strategies they use to solve everyday disputes and claim their rights (with or without the support of formal and informal justice providers). The article begins with a literature review summarizing what is known from other regions about the justice concerns of IDPs and refugees and the strategies they pursue to claim their rights. Data was collected in the city of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province in eastern DRC, through interviews with IDPs, residents, and local administrative chiefs as well as a quantitative survey of IDPs and residents. The main findings are as follows:

  • Little assistance is provided to IDPs in Bukavu and both state and non-state actors have limited knowledge of their situation.
  • The authors identify three categories of common disputes, specifically disputes relating to: (a) housing conditions; (b) the marginalization and discrimination of IDPs by longer-term residents; and (c) labour and labour conditions.
  • There was little evidence of IDPs taking their justice concerns to formal state justice providers, with the exception of local administrative chiefs, who play an indispensable role as justice providers at the street/neighborhood level.
  • The most important strategies for resolving disputes and claiming rights are: (a) consulting the local chief; (b) consulting the church; or (c) not doing anything.
  • Mobilization of personal connections is key for IDPs to find justice, either directly or indirectly.

The authors suggest that helping IDPs to strengthen their social networks in town could be a strategy for policy makers and practitioners to improve IDP’s access to justice and to better respect their rights.