Endeavors to resolve disputes through informal means have probably existed forever – they were certainly around well before the modern formal justice systems, as we know them today, evolved.
These informal mechanisms are so deeply entrenched in some parts of the world that they continue to play a significant part in people's lives, dealing with everything from property disputes, to marriage and divorce, to inheritance.
In fact, more than 80 percent of disputes may be resolved through these means in some developing nations. Often, this is simply because customary justice systems are easily accessible and affordable when compared to the distances and costs related to formal justice systems. And in times of disaster or conflict, when the formal justice system is not operational, there may be no other option.
Informal justice systems frequently depend on mediation, reconciliation and consensus. Still, engagement with them is sometimes frowned upon, as they tend to promote patriarchal interpretations of culture, and conflict with internationally accepted conventions on rights issues. They could, for instance, impose punishments regarded as inhumane or discriminatory.
But given their extensive usage, there is a growing realization of the need to not only engage with them, but to create links between them and the formal justice system. Doing so could help improve accountability. It could also encourage community leaders to adopt mechanisms that are consistent with international standards.