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Non-state Justice Systems in Bangladesh and the Philippines

By: Stephen Golub

This paper aims to help the Department for International Development (DFID) assess whether and how to work with non-state justice systems (NSJS) as part of its program to advance safety, security and accessible justice (SSAJ) in the countries where it operates.  It is further guided by the overall DFID goal, to which SSAJ programs contribute, of reducing poverty in its widest sense. Consistent with a growing international consensus, DFID views poverty as embracing such problems as powerlessness and vulnerability, and not just material deprivation. Given that in many developing countries NSJS handle more disputes than do the courts and other state institutions, they hold considerable significance for SSAJ and poverty alleviation.  Prepared as part of a larger DFID research initiative involving a number of consultants and countries, this particular report focuses on Bangladesh and the Philippines for a combination of reasons. Bangladesh features widespread use of a community-based, non-state dispute resolution technique, shalish, in three broad forms: as traditionally administered by village leaders and other influential persons, including religious figures; as modified through national legislation and accordingly administered by a local government body, the union parishad (UP); and as modified and overseen by NGOs in many parts of the country.

The Philippines features at least once significant type of NSJS that could inform DFID’s work, even though the Department does not operate there. It has over 20 years of experience with a national Katarungang Pambarangay or Barangay Justice System (BJS, named for the administrative levels at which the system operates) that builds on indigenous dispute resolution practices.

Both Bangladesh and the Philippines also have numerous cultural minorities whose non-state justice systems coexist (sometimes uneasily) with those of the state.  By their very definition, these minorities’ systems and experiences do not affect the majority of the populace.  They nevertheless are significant for DFID because in many countries such groups are among the most victimized and powerless groups suffering lack of safety, security and access to justice. This paper accordingly aims to draw on their insights and experience regarding both their non-state and state systems to ascertain what can be done to help make SSAJ a reality for cultural minorities.  Much of this report addresses dispute resolution, and by extension the DFID priority of access to justice. Nevertheless, what is implicit in dispute resolution should be made explicit: it helps prevent escalation of disputes, with powerful implications for the other two DFID justice priorities of personal safety and security of property for the poor.

The document comprises two main parts. The first, “Experience with Non-state Justice Systems,” summarizes various NSJS experiences of governments, NGOs, development organizations, communities and individuals in Bangladesh and the Philippines. It closes with a brief analysis of the two societies’ comparative experience with NSJS. The second, “Recommendations and Conclusions,” builds on that experience to recommend further steps DFID should take regarding whether and how to work with NSJS itself, including additional research it should commission.

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Uploaded on: Dec 08, 2015
Last Updated: Dec 15, 2015
Year Published: 2003
Author: Steve Golub
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