International Development Law Organization

Customary and Informal Justice

Endeavors to resolve disputes through informal means trace back to practices and traditions from time immemorial in many societies and pre-date modern formal justice systems. Customary and informal mechanisms are deeply entrenched in many parts of the world and act as critical pathways in justice journeys, especially for women, children, and remote, poor and minority populations. They continue to play a significant part in people's lives, dealing with matters ranging from theft to property disputes, to marriage and divorce, to inheritance. Often, customary and informal systems enjoy legitimacy in their communities and are easily accessible, quick, and affordable when compared to the distances, time and costs related to formal justice systems. And during disaster or conflict, when the formal justice system is not operational, there may be no other option.

Customary and informal systems exhibit different characteristics from their formal state counterparts, including an emphasis on restorative justice, flexible rules and procedures, and consent-based negotiated or mediated solutions. While advantageous in some contexts, these characteristics can also create tension with international human rights standards and the rule of law, particularly where harmful traditional practices or patriarchal interpretations conflict with the rights of justice seekers. The context in which customary and informal systems operate is important and given their extensive usage, so are links to the formal justice system and accountability mechanisms, consistent with international standards.

As the international community works to achieve the 2030 Agenda, there is growing realization of the importance of including customary and informal justice systems on the path to realize SDG 16, building effective and accountable institutions at all levels, providing access to justice for all, and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

 

Evaluation of the project "Strengthening Linkages Between Formal Justice System and Traditional Dispute Resolution System to Improve Access to Justice - Phase II"

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.

Strategic Investment in Rule of Law Programming

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.

Community justice in Uganda

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.

Reforming and modernizing the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system in Somalia

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.

Sustainable pathways to peace

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.

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Key Initiatives

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • ​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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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