Customary and informal justice systems represent some of the most complex and even controversial aspects of the justice dialogue. To some, they hold the key to unlocking inclusive societies – to others, they perpetuate inequalities and serve to further marginalize those seeking justice.
Customary and Informal Justice
Customary and informal justice (CIJ) describes justice and conflict resolution mechanisms that operate outside the formal system of state-based laws and courts, ranging from traditional and indigenous systems to local alternative dispute resolution. CIJ systems tend to be cheaper, more accessible, and better trusted than formal systems; they emphasize restorative justice, flexible rules and procedures, and negotiated solutions that are culturally resonant. However, they often operate in ways not consistent with international human rights standards and reflect unequal power dynamics and conservative social norms, with adverse effects on women and other excluded groups.
The case for engaging with CIJ systems is straightforward: the vast majority of justice seekers claim their rights and resolve their problems outside of formal courts, and their first resort is to CIJ. With more than five billion people lacking access to justice, CIJ systems must be included in efforts to achieve justice for all in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Those at greatest risk of being left behind by formal justice systems are also the main users of CIJ systems, including women and girls, young people, indigenous communities, people in remote and rural areas, and the poorest households.
IDLO is an established global leader in developing and advocating for solutions that bridge the justice gap by empowering people to realize their rights in CIJ systems. IDLO is committed to engaging with the diverse pathways available to justice seekers, especially women and other excluded groups, strengthening the accessibility, responsiveness, and accountability of CIJ providers, and ensuring they align with international human rights standards and cooperate with formal justice systems. IDLO seeks to promote innovative approaches, generate knowledge, and influence policy in ways that centre CIJ in the global justice agenda, including through its key role in establishing the Working Group on CIJ and SDG16+. Delivering access to people-centred justice for all will be viable only if there is recognition that that the state is not the sole justice provider.
IDLO's Publications on Customary and Informal Justice:
Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice
Community Paralegals and Customary and Informal Justice explores how community-based paralegals and other legal aid providers can strengthen the accessibility and inclusiveness of customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.
Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers
Accessing Justice: Somalia's Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers reviews structural, procedural, and normative dimensions of justice in six Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centers in Somalia, documenting insights from ADR Coordinators, Clerks, paralegals, and Adjudicators as well as users of the Centers.View more
Issue Brief: Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems
Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems focuses on the relationship between women and customary and informal justice (CIJ) systems.View more
Policy and Issue Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems
In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16.View more
Practitioner Brief: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems
In a bid to make justice accessible for all, IDLO has launched a series of Consultations on customary and informal justice systems. The global dialogue is informed by a series of publications titled “Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice: Engagement with Customary and Informal Justice Systems” that seeks to advance policy dialogue and distil lessons from programming and research, to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16. This Practitioner Brief offers a set of concrete tools, recommendations and good practices to support engagement with customary and informal justice systems.
This year's World Justice Forum will take place in The Hague from April 29 to May 2. The forum will focus on the theme 'realizing justice for all' and brings together governmental and non-governmental actors, private sector leaders, and members of the donor community.
The sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019.
SIDE EVENT Women and Customary and Informal Justice Systems: A Global Consultation on Navigating Complex Pathways to Justice
The Hague, February 4, 2019 – “Access to justice will remain elusive for many people unless there is meaningful engagement with customary and informal justice systems,” remarked Dr. Ilaria Bottigliero, IDLO’s Director for Policy, Research and Learning as she launched the first of a series of Consultations on the subject with practitioners and policy thinkers.
Navigating complex pathways towards justice for all
As part of IDLO’s continuous commitment to accountability and results-based management, IDLO is pleased to share this Evaluation Brief for the project, "Strengthening Linkages Between Formal Justice System and Traditional Dispute Resolution System to Improve Access to Justice - Phase II". The evaluation has been conducted by independent evaluation experts, supervised by IDLO’s Evaluation Unit.
Growing insecurity and instability, recurring and protracted conflict and violence, increasing inequality, exclusion and discrimination, deterioration of international human rights and humanitarian norms, all signal the importance of strengthening the rule of law in today’s rapidly changing world. Notably, Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks to promote peace, justice and strong institutions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Achieving Justice For All
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.