Introduction: Justice & Rule of Law Sub-topics

Presentation of the subtopics

The Justice and Rule of Law thematic area of the Peacebuilding Initiative portal consists of the following subtopics:

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Judicial and legal reform/(re)construction

Judicial and legal reform/(re)construction refers to activities aimed at, or the process of, reforming or redrafting the legal framework (or laws) and reforming or rebuilding the justice system (the judiciary, police, and prisons) of a post-conflict society. 

Violent conflicts tend to devastate the justice system, leaving behind corrupt, illegitimate, dysfunctional, or non-existent institutions. As a result, post-conflict societies lack the capacity to manage societal conflicts through the provision of fair and efficient justice. The inability to adequately address societal conflicts can be detrimental to peacebuilding processes as it can lead to the reemergence of violence. Therefore, putting in place a legitimate and appropriate legal framework and building viable institutions is seen as a key aspect of the peacebuilding agenda.  Go to Judicial and Legal Reform/(Re)construction

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Access to justice

Access to justice refers to people's ability to solve disputes and reach adequate remedies for grievances, through formal or informal justice mechanisms, and in conformity with human rights principles and standards.

Many post-conflict societies are marked by serious structural and operational barriers to justice.  Yet the everyday justice needs of the general population do not go away; rather, they are more likely to increase precisely due to the effects of violent conflict. A combination of significant barriers to access and unsatisfied justice needs can potentially destabilize the peacebuilding process and, if unaddressed, cause a relapse into violent conflict. Providing adequate avenues for making justice claims and securing adequate remedies is seen as a key emerging area of peacebuilding. Access to justice initiatives either focus on expanding the reach of the formal justice system, or undertaking bottom-up initiatives that aim to empower historically disadvantaged sections of society.  Go to Access to Justice

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Human rights promotion and protection

Human rights promotion and protection refers to activities that aim to promote and protect those rights which are inherent to someone by virtue of being human, without distinction as to race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or any other social membership category. Human rights defend the fundamental interests and values of human dignity and well-being.

Human rights violations are usually seen as both causes and symptoms of violent conflict.  Therefore, the objective of human rights related activities is to protect people from further abuses and address the structural, systemic conditions that give rise to human rights violations. A general improvement in the human rights situation is considered essential for the rehabilitation of war-torn societies. More important, the promotion and protection of human rights must aim to deepen a culture of human rights within a society, as an ongoing part of the nation-building and social reconstruction process. As such, human rights promotion and protection contribute to the transformation of societal conditions that could potentially generate violence.  Go to Human Rights Promotion and Protection

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Transitional justice

Transitional justice refers to a field of study and practice that is concerned with how states and societies emerging from civil war, mass violence, or political repression address the legacies of grave human rights violations.  Transitional justice is usually seen to encompass a set of approaches, including criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, vetting processes, and amnesties.

The legacies of systematic and/or massive human rights abuses perpetuate divisions within society, making the post-conflict landscape extremely tense and fragile. And if these legacies are not addressed in some broadly acceptable way, then it is highly doubtful that trust among the different segments of society and trust in the state can be restored; both of which are seen as key elements of sustainable peace. In particular, the various transitional justice approaches are thought to advance peacebuilding by establishing a historical record and countering denial; ensuring accountability and ending impunity, fostering reconciliation and socio-political reconstruction.  Go to Transitional Justice

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Traditional and informal justice systems

Traditional and informal justice systems refer to justice practices that take place at the community level and have some origins in that communitys cultural repertoire.

Many post-conflict societies rely on traditional and informal justice systems to provide justice, particularly in civil matters. Such justice systems are especially important in post-conflict contexts where the formal justice system is often severely weakened or damaged as a result of violent conflict. Traditional and informal justice systems are seen to prevent the resumption of violence and promote a sustainable peace by providing justice that is well-suited to the needs of the general population, especially rural communities, and thus by providing effective mechanisms of conflict management. Yet, traditional/informal justice is no panacea. Its capacity to contribute to the different dimensions of peacebuilding and social reconstruction must be assessed in relation to a certain number of limitations that can be observed in a variety of contexts, but more specifically in post-conflict situations, including the risk of domination and abuse of power, the non-respect of international human rights standards, the risks of manipulation and illegitimacy, and the limited applicability of the practices.
Go to Traditional and Informal Justice Systems

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Articulation of these subtopics on the portal

Two aspects of the delineation of these subtopics under the Justice and Rule of law section of this portal deserve further explanation. In both cases, the choices made in delineating the different topics were shaped by practical considerations.

First, the topic of police and prison reform is addressed in the security sector reform (SSR), which also encompasses military and intelligence institutions, in the Security and Public Order thematic area. This separation is mainly due to space and length constraints, although it is fully recognized that justice and rule of law and security sector reforms are inextricably linked areas of activity. To highlight the key linkages between them, the portal provides multiple cross-references and links between the justice and security areas of the portal.

Second, the universe of transitional justice can be broadly or narrowly defined. At its broadest, it involves anything that a society devises to deal with a legacy of conflict and/or widespread human rights violations. In other words, it may include all dimensions of the justice and rule of law agenda, as well as security sector reforms and some dimensions of the psycho-social recovery agenda (with respect to memory and history work, reconciliation processes, and trauma for instance). On this portal, the Transitional Justice subsection focuses on the narrower definition of transitional  justice, centered on the two central aspects of truth and justice and focused on a set of approaches, including (1) criminal prosecutions, (2) truth commissions, (3) reparations, (4) institutional reform, especially vetting, and (5) amnesties. This separation is mainly due to space and length constraints. However, the subsection highlights the multiple links with other dimensions of peacebuilding that are closely related to transitional justice and addressed in other subsections of this portal. Visitors can easily navigate between them.

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.