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Informal Justice Systems


State and Non-State Dispute Resolution in Afghanistan (US Institute of Peace)

This study published by USIP in 2007 analyzes the coexistence of state and non-state dispute resolution in Afghanistan. In post-Taliban Afghanistan, the formal justice system has limited reach and legitimacy, and struggles to function in an environment with depleted human resources and infrastructure, a legal system in tatters, and where local power largely continues to supercede central authority. The justice system is relatively weak in the urban centers where the central government is strongest, and in the rural areas that house approximately 75% of the population, functioning courts, police, and prisons are an exception. For the majority of Afghans, disputes are settled, if at all, at the local level by village elders, district governors, clerics, and police chiefs.


The Role of traditional structures in security, rights, law and development in Somalia (Danish Refugee Council)

The Danish Refugee Council has published a report in 2007 on the role of traditional structures in security, rights, law and development in Somalia. Given the central and legitimate position of the traditional structures in the organization of Somali society, it seems obvious to the authors that they should be involved in the future formation of state structures, and that their 'xeer' and the official judicial systems should be realigned rather than continuing as two parallel systems. Traditional structures can arguably contribute positively to the constitutional processes that should be at the foundation of building any new state in the Somali lands. This study provides a critical assessment of the historical and current role of traditional structures in providing security and in the development process, and analyses how the Somali traditional structures can interlink and be matched with formal governmental structures and principles of good governance (incl. human rights & international humanitarian law). Finally, the study formulates a framework on how development agencies can work with traditional structures as development partners.

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Doing Justice: How informal justice systems can contribute (UNDP)

This UNDP study on informal justice systems published in December 2006 by the Oslo Governance Centre makes the case for more donor engagement with these systems. After defining the key concepts, the study makes the case for why informal justice systems are important. The author then analyzes characteristics of informal justice systems as well as their strengths and weaknesses. She also discusses the linkages between informal and formal justice systems. Finally, she presents recommendations for how to engage with informal justice systems.

Justice for the Poor Program

Justice for the Poor (J4P) is a global research and development program aimed at informing and supporting pro-poor approaches to justice reform. It represents an approach to justice reform which values the perspectives of the users, particularly the poor and marginalized, such as women, youth and ethnic minorities. Grounded in social and cultural contexts, J4P seeks to generate empirically based understandings of how the poor navigate and/or are excluded from existing dispute resolution and decision-making mechanisms. J4P builds on an understanding of what can work in different local contexts, promoting programmatic and policy interventions with a view to making justice reform more responsive and tangible to the needs of all citizens, but especially the poor.

J4P acknowledges the importance of "the demand side" of equitable justice sector reform, and as such the program focuses on identifying local strategies and innovations that enhance the ability of the poor to claim and protect their rights, and to meaningfully engage with various forms of state and non-state power. Recognizing that issues of justice arise wherever we "do development", J4P represents a new approach to understanding justice initiatives and mainstreaming them as part of broader governance (and other sectoral) programs.

The J4P program is being implemented as a collaborative effort between the Legal Vice Presidency, Development Research Group, Social Development, Public Sector Governance and the World Bank Institute of the World Bank. Creating a joint agenda enhances the range of expertise that can be brought to the program, and enables a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach to justice reform. The program is being supported by an advisory group made up of relevant members of each of these Vice Presidencies. This enables the initiative to have a significant and direct role in shaping an important emerging operational agenda.

Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems

This background paper to the World Development Report 2006 on “Equity and Development” attempts to bring customary systems into central focus in the ongoing debate about legal and regulatory reform. Given the prevalence and importance of customary legal systems in most developing countries in the world, the relative lack of attention to the workings—and effects—of these systems by development practitioners is striking. Many governments, however, have tried to engage with customary systems in one way or another, with differing results, as this study shows.

Paralegals and Provision of Primary Justice Services in Sierra Leone

Timap for Justice, co-founded by the Open Society Initiative and the Sierra Leonean National Forum for Human Rights, is a pioneering organization training and deploying paralegals in the country's rural areas. In a nation with five million people and only 100 lawyers, the need for their services is acute. Timap's paralegals address justice problems that arise between people and the authorities, such as corruption in government services, as well as disputes between individuals, including instances of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The paralegals use mediation, advocacy and community organizing to resolve such problems. Their efforts are complicated by Sierra Leone's dualist legal structure, which features both a formal legal system of courts and lawyers based on the English model, and a customary system based on traditional approaches to justice. Timap's paralegals apply their knowledge of formal law and their familiarity with local customs to navigate between the two legal systems.

Access to Justice in Subsaharan Africa: The Role of Traditional and Informal Justice Systems, Penal Reform International, 2001

A thorough analysis of non-state justice systems in Africa that examines issues such as reconciliation versus retribution, public participation, methods of enforcement, and the controlling norms. It contains a chapter comparing non-state systems in South Asia and another discussing donor-sponsored reforms to non-state systems. It concludes with a series of recommendations for governments on how to treat different kinds of non-state systems. Extensive bibliography and Web site directory included.

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