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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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IDLO launches global consultations on customary and informal justice systems

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.

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.

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