With the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women (RENEW) and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) on February 9, RENEW volunteers now will work together with authorised jabmis and paralegals to settle misdemeanor and below cases of domestic violence as consensus-builders in the country.

The MoU is based on article 22 of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 (DVPA), which states that if the victim so desires, the RBP may allow misdemeanor and below forms of cases to be settled mutually.

RENEW’s community outreach department’s director, Meenakshi Rai (PhD) said domestic violence is crime. “In a crime, no one is supposed to mediate.”

She said that the Act only allows the RBP as the authority to look into matters of domestic violence.

However, since the establishment of RENEW in 2004, the organisation has been helping victims and defendants to settle disputes as most victims did not want to report to police or go to court.

Meenakshi Rai said that for RENEW to help people suffering from domestic violence, the Consensus Building Initiative (CBI) was important. “MoU signing was as part of the CBI that aims to respond effectively to social issues such as family violence,” she said.  “It is also to provide best services to the people by working within the legal framework and provide accessibility of such services to people.”

She said that misdemeanor and below cases are those that could be settled and were less serious. “The seriousness and severity of the case would be decided by the RBP.”

Police personnel would consider parameters such as the nature and circumstance of the offence, frequency and severity of the abuse, and the age, maturity and state of the mind of the victims, among others.

A press release from RENEW stated that there was a need to have a response mechanism to meet the requirement of different clients due to the sensitive and complicated issues of domestic violence.

RENEW in consultation with RBP, Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSWLaw), National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and the Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI) came up with the consensus-building programme.

The Community Based Support System (CBSS) volunteers will work in collaboration with those people authorised by statute, to seek workable, sustainable, and mutually acceptable solutions in situations of alleged domestic violence.

It was learnt that the manual for the consensus-builders is being prepared which would clearly define their roles and responsibilities in helping the victims and defendants from that of the gups, mangmis, formally trained paralegals, jabmis, or drangpons authorised to dispense legal advice.

The programme involves training of RENEW’s CBSS volunteers in collaboration with RBP to help clients access both formal and informal justice systems.

Although there are over 3,500 members registered with RENEW, only about 677 volunteers are active across the country.

Meenakshi Rai said that the consensus-building programme would help record and document domestic violence cases across the country, which could also be used as evidence.

It was found that an increasing number of domestic violence cases are reported to the centre, to women and children protection unit of RBP, and to RENEW’s network of CBSS volunteers across the country.

Of the 420 cases reported to RENEW headquarters last year, the highest since 2004, 165 cases were identified as cases of emotional abuse, 100 economic, 93 physical, 14 sexual, and 48 non-domestic violence cases such as job seekers.

The UNDP supported the initiative.

Staff reporter