This resource is paper no.7 in the International Development Law Organization (IDLO)’s Traditional Justice series.
Any discussion of the features of, and the opportunities and constraints inherent in, customary justice systems raises important questions about the role that they should play in the programming of national governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in development, post-conflict or post-natural disaster contexts. Principally, should aid agencies engage with customary justice systems when they operate outside the formal legal sector and may fail to uphold accepted international human rights and criminal justice standards, even though they may be the only functional or preferred mechanism for dispute resolution? If the answer is yes, what are the aims of and principles underpinning such engagement? Should attention focus on enhancing the protection of marginalized groups, either by eliminating the negative aspects of customary justice or strengthening the links between the formal and informal justice sectors?
Alternatively, should the aim be to modify our thinking with respect to the customary justice sector; to approach it less as a problem that needs to be resolved and instead as an integral part of the solution to providing access to fair and equitable justice for all — a system that needs to be supported and strengthened in all its aspects?
Although such questions were first posed only in recent years, a rich policy debate has evolved. The following article provides insight into this discourse, taking into account policy and donor imperatives, the extent to which engagement with customary justice aligns with dominant models of justice sector reform, and the role that customary justice systems might play in the achievement of other development objectives. A thorough understanding of these factors should guide how the rule of law community approaches programming in plural contexts, including by identifying some of the challenges that need to be overcome and by situating customary law within a framework that takes into account the socio-economic, cultural and security context in which community-level dispute resolution takes place.
Last updated January 30, 2013.
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Withdraw consent at any time where we are relying on consent to process your personal data. However, this will not affect the lawfulness of any processing carried out before you withdraw your consent. If you withdraw your consent, we may not be able to provide certain products or services to you. We will advise you if this is the case at the time you withdraw your consent.
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We may need to request specific information from you to help us confirm your identity and ensure your right to access your personal data (or to exercise any of your other rights). This is a security measure to ensure that personal data is not disclosed to any person who has no right to receive it. We may also contact you to ask you for further information in relation to your request to speed up our response.
We try to respond to all legitimate requests within one month. Occasionally it could take us longer than a month if your request is particularly complex or you have made a number of requests. In this case, we will notify you and keep you updated.
If you live in an EEA Member State, all of which have adopted the EU GDPR and national , you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority about this policy and its application. The European Commission has a list of EU national data protection authorities here:
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have a right to lodge a complaint with your relevant supervisory authority, the ICO, about this policy and its application:
The Policy was updated in July 2022 to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations.