Customary and Informal Justice
Recurring estimates show that globally, more than 80% of legal disputes are resolved outside of the formal courts through customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems. The vast majority of these justice seekers are women, poor people, minority groups and marginalized communities. CIJ systems carry many benefits, including affordability, flexibility, speed and cultural relevancy. They tend to be more accessible compared to the formal justice sector – especially to vulnerable and marginalized populations – and enjoy high levels of trust within communities. At the same time, it is well recognized that CIJ systems are deeply rooted in cultural, traditional or religious norms that are not always in line with international standards of human rights and some national constitutions.
While widespread and critically important to many individuals and communities, CIJ systems are often left out of discussions held at the international level. In 2019, IDLO launched global consultations on CIJ with the aim of advancing policy dialogue and distilling lessons from programming and research to make justice accessible for all. The consultations were backed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems”.
IDLO’s dialogue with stakeholders throughout 2019 confirmed that enhancing access to equitable and quality justice for all will only become viable if we recognize that the state is not the sole justice provider. It is crucial to engage with and strengthen the variety of justice actors and mechanisms used by individuals, particularly for those who are marginalized, to resolve their disputes through context-specific, inclusive and innovative ways. As the international community races to realize the 2030 Agenda, continuing the conversation around CIJ systems – their value added, tensions and complexities – will be critical to ensuring no one is left behind.
IDLO's Publications on Customary and Informal Justice:
As countries seek to make progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16, there is growing recognition that it is essential to work with both state and non-state justice systems to strengthen the rule of law and effectively prevent and resolve conflicts.
The nature of rule of law programming is changing in response to a series of external and internal drivers.
“I heard on the radio that this place helps people at no cost,” said Sarah*, a client at a legal aid center in Jinja, Uganda. Sarah’s estranged husband had refused to provide maintenance for their children.
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Photos: ©IDLO_Lorelei Taylor French
Achieving Justice For All
Le Mali continue à endurer les attaques de groupes armés qui créent dans le pays un climat de conflit et de volatilité.
Lack of access to a fair and equitable justice system is one of the most pressing problems confronting modern Somalia on its path towards stability and reconstruction. Informal justice systems, offering alternative dispute resolution are often much better placed to respond to the immediate justice needs of many Somalis seeking justice, as they have more legitimacy and are more easily accessible. To enhance access to justice in Somalia, it is therefore essential to engage with the alternative dispute resolution systems.
Searching for the Cutting Edge: Identifying Pathways to Achieving Access to Justice at the National, Regional and International Level
Achieving Justice For All
Lack of access to a fair and equitable justice system is one of the most pressing problems confronting modern Somalia on its path towards stability and reconstruction. Rebuilding Somalia’s formal justice system is a highly challenging, complex, and long-term undertaking. In fact, there have not been any effective formal justice institutions in the country for over two decades.
While showing steady progress, the formal justice system in Somalia remains fragile. Somalis continue to use traditional dispute resolution (TDR) mechanisms to resolve conflicts in their communities due to their physical accessibility, low cost and legitimacy in the eyes of local participants. The TDR system has the potential to improve access to justice in Somalia, but at the same time informal justice can reinforce forms of discrimination and support practices that do not comply with international human rights standards.
In 2012, the Federal Government of Somalia took office with international backing after two decades of warfare. Since then, the government has developed a National Stabilization Strategy (NSS) to address enduring areas of conflict in the country with ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ reconciliation and clan-conflict reduction strategies. While commendable for its multifaceted response, there is a recognized need to improve rule of law at the community level.
In June 2015, IDLO commenced the project: Researching the Impact of Land Tenure Registration on Land Disputes and Women’s Land Rights in Burundi. Land Tenure Registration (LTR) programs involve issuing proof of ownership to holders of land rights to increase their legal certainty. Such programs are undertaken for a variety of reasons. While much is known about the impact of LTR on factors like access to credit and agricultural output, there is a gap in knowledge of its impact on land disputes, particularly in post-conflict settings.
IDLO has been working with the European Union’s EUROsociAL program to provide assistance and support to Peru’s indigenous communities. Partnering with the Peruvian Ministry of Justice and judiciary, IDLO has helped create a model for legal orientation and institutional coordination on intercultural justice in the district of San Martín. The intervention sought to strengthen orientation services and legal aid, establishing a model for intercultural justice.
IDLO is rolling out a program that aims to secure accessible, quality and sustainable justice services for citizens - particularly those living in rural, poor and other disadvantaged communities. The Community Justice Programme (CJP) supports both state and non-state legal aid, legal empowerment and other justice delivery interventions.