International Development Law Organization

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:

Climate and Conflict in the Sahel: a Rule of Law Perspective

In fragile contexts, the immediate impacts of climate change on precipitation and temperatures risk to combine with political and social tensions exacerbating destructive competition over scarce natural resources.

This is tragically evident in Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, where recurrent droughts, population growth and weak governance ​are increasing pressure on land and water


Key Initiatives

  • Like other countries on the African continent, the Ugandan justice sector faces many challenges. Citizens demonstrate a widespread distrust towards formal justice institutions, which are perceived as corrupt, removed from the communities, expensive and slow to resolve disputes. This lack of confidence in the formal system leads people to resort to other means to seek recourse, and may also increase the likelihood of violence and further corruption.
  • The private sector is of central importance for The Gambia, a Least Developed Country where the availability of private capital from foreign and domestic investors is critical to promote sustainable economic growth, increase employment and ensure better living conditions.
  • The failure of criminal justice systems in the Sahel to deliver better quality justice can be linked to a series of interconnected factors, such as: the overwhelming lack of human, material and financial capacity; corruption and weak internal control mechanisms; and limitations on civil society to ensure respect for human rights.
  • 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.
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