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Paving the Way to Justice: The Experience of Nagorik Uddyog

By: Dina M. Siddiqi

This document has been produced in light of the increasing recognition that access to justice is a fundamental means of establishing human rights. It begins with a brief review of common problems associated with providing meaningful access to justice in poor countries.  The report then focuses on the activities of Nagorik Uddyog (NU), a non-governmental organization in Bangladesh whose approach offers a model that appears to have a substantial and sustainable impact on justice delivery. It is hoped that the lessons learned from NU’s experience will help guide future work in this area in Bangladesh and elsewhere (see section on Lessons Learned).

Founded in 1995, NU promotes human rights and good governance, with a particular focus on local governance and gender rights.  It facilitates the realization of rights of women at the grassroots level through education on civic rights, human rights and women’s rights and by resolving community and family disputes through mediation.  The long-term objective is to create democratic spaces, conditions and processes that will enable marginalized and disempowered groups, especially women, to claim for themselves their rights as citizens.  A formidable social distance exists between most people and formal judicial institutions.  For many people the entire process, from beginning to end, becomes an exercise in alienation.

If we are to take seriously the legal needs and social realities of impoverished groups, we need to engage with the modes of justice on which they rely. In other words, we must revise conventional definitions of access to justice.  However, it is important to keep in mind that informal modes are not a substitute for formal ones. Rather, the two systems are complementary.

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Uploaded on: Dec 10, 2015
Year Published: 2003
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