Traditional & Informal Justice & Peacebuilding Processes

Last Updated: April 6, 2009

The literature on traditional justice in post-conflict societies is quite recent and thus in early stages of development. Yet, existing accounts of experiences and scholar works allow situating the importance and potential functions of traditional and informal justice in peacebuilding processes, in particular in post-conflict contexts. There is undoubtedly greater interest in and recognition of these systems in the international peacebuilding community, at least at a rhetorical level. But concrete support remains limited.

The nature of justice issues in post-conflict settings

Most of today's wars are essentially civil in nature. They often imply a great cost for civilians who, too often, are specifically targeted and submitted to mass killings and other atrocities such as mutilation, rape, the destruction of villages and the deportation of people.1 Those who carry out the violence are not only professional combatants, but civilians who, for a variety of reasons, become agents of destruction. Child soldiers are the prototypical example of this phenomenon.  In northern Uganda, for example, children have been abducted by the LRA and, usually through coercion and indoctrination, have been turned into agents of violence. In such cases, it becomes difficult to distinguish between perpetrators and victims. The proportion of crimes committed at the heart of the community, or even within single families, is also often higher than is imagined. Frequently, perpetrators come from the same areas as those they kill or harm. This "intimate violence" or "intimate crime" has been documented in contexts as different as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo or Peru.2 But the violence is not only intimate; it is also popular in that it enlists the participation of thousands of ordinary people, and even greater numbers of people become direct beneficiaries of the violence. 3  Rwanda is the most extreme contemporary example of mass participation in violence, with hundreds of thousands of individuals suspected to have contributed directly to violence.4 

These features of contemporary violence carry enormous implications for post-war justice.  First, the blurred line between perpetrators and victims means that criminal prosecutions (trials), with their emphasis on apportioning responsibility and meting out punishment, may be in part inadequate as they fail to consider the complexities of violence. Therefore, some analysts have called for a shift from a conception with clearly demarcated categories of "victims" and "perpetrators" to a more socially inclusive category of "survivors," defined as "all those who continue to be blessed with life in the aftermath of the civil war."5 Indeed, in many post-conflict societies, victims, perpetrators, and survivors in general continue to live in the same communities. This continued coexistence, though possibly inevitable, may be marked by residual fears, animosities, and tension. In other words, post-conflict communal life is often driven by the legacies of the violence. A central task of peacebuilding is to transform communal relations from a state of "negative peace" (usually defined as an absence of armed conflict) to one of positive peace (defined as a structural transformation towards a socio-political and economic system capable of fostering justice and ensuring a self-sustained peace). Such a transformation is beyond the scope of formal, retributive justice; rather, it requires more holistic and locally-relevant approaches that address a set of concerns, including accountability, truth-telling, reparation, and reconciliation. 

Second, very weak or barely functioning formal justice mechanisms are unable to process thousands of people who may have participated in war-related crimes. Furthermore, a purely retributive approach may not accord with the priorities of economic recovery.  Imprisoning thousands of productive people (in particular young males who often constitute a high proportion of suspects) may adversely affect the immediate needs of economic recovery. 

For proponents of traditional/informal justice, the nature of justice issues faced in contemporary post-conflict settings explain the need to at least partly refer to that system.

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The myth of a post-conflict "vacuum"

Given the typically devastating effects of war, it is tempting to think of post-conflict societies as a "tabula rasa" or as a "vacuum" to be filled.  The idea of a "rule of law vacuum" or a "legal vacuum" is often referred to by international actors. While a critical shortage of human capacities and material resources surely characterizes most post-conflict formal judicial systems, questioning the mere existence of some of them, this does not mean that other initiatives/efforts aimed at addressing justice issues do not exist. "Interestingly, when we approach the subject of post-conflict reconstruction of justice, there seems to be a preconception that the conflict left a justice vacuum that now has to be such vacuum exists, even when the state structures have collapsed completely. People will always need ways of settling their disputes, and if there is no more formal way of doing so, they resort to other means.:6 As Erin Baines concludes in her study of local approaches to justice in northern Uganda, "in the absence of formal justice processes in northern Uganda and of a functioning democratic dispensation in that region, the Acholi people have coped with everyday life in a violent conflict by relying on 'culturally informed practices.'"7 
Go to judicial and legal reform/reconstruction

These systems also assist communities to deal with post-war daily conflicts. Paying attention to them is at minimum a way to get a more accurate picture of the post-conflict justice system as it actually functions in a given context. In too many cases, "justice sector reformers have failed to acknowledge, and thus comprehend, the systems--which, at least in rural areas, are predominantly customary, idiosyncratic to specific sub-regional and cultural contexts, and residing only in oral form--by which many people (if not most poor people) in developing countries order their lives function."8 As one observer notes, "with increasing discussion about complementarity efforts and local ownership of development efforts, should we not also take account of and accept what the local population wants? It would be logical to build on the local perception of justice, and thus on systems that are acceptable to the local population."9
Go to transitional justice and reconciliation

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Growing international recognition but insufficient concrete support to traditional justice in peacebuilding

There is undoubtedly greater interest in and recognition of traditional justice in the international peacebuilding community, at least at a rhetorical level. As the now seminal document in the field, the UN Secretary General's Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies recommends, "due regard must be given to indigenous and informal traditions for administering justice or settling disputes, to help them to continue their often vital role and to do so in conformity with both international standards and local tradition. Where these are ignored or overridden, the result can be the exclusion of large sectors of society from accessible justice."10

Moreover, the very definition of justice used in the Secretary Generals report gives place to traditional justice. The report defines justice as "an ideal of accountability and fairness in the protection and vindication of rights and the prevention and punishment of wrongs.  Justice implies regard for the rights of the accused, for the interests of victims and for the well-being of society at large. It is a concept rooted in all national cultures and traditions and, while its administration usually implies formal judicial mechanisms, traditional dispute resolution mechanisms are equally relevant."11

It is also worth pointing out that traditional justice has partial basis in international law, as articulated in Article 34 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: "Indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards."12 It is important to note, however, that the term indigenous here is used as a reference to the original inhabitants of parts of the world before the onset of European colonization, and is thus different from "indigenous" as a synonym of "local" or "traditional." 

"Legitimacy is a cornerstone of justice, and means and priorities must be locally defined. All these ideas are now generally accepted,"13 but remain far from being always applied in practice. "Despite the prevalence of traditional and customary law, these systems have been almost completely neglected by the international development community, even at a time when justice sector reform has become a rapidly expanding area of assistance."14

"Development organizations have not only tended to ignore traditional systems, they have had a propensity to view them in fairly negative terms. Traditional systems are often seen as archaic, 'backward,' or rigid practices that are not amenable to modernization, efficient market relations, or broader development goals. In terms of reform, they are often seen as overly localized and complex, with the diversity of systems making more generalized initiatives too difficult. They are often seen as undemocratic--lacking democratic accountability mechanisms to induce reform--and lacking in legal legitimacy, authority and enforceability."15  Go to Judicial and Legal Reform/Reconstruction

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The peacebuilding functions of traditional/informal justice systems

Existing accounts of experiences and scholar works allow situating the potential functions of traditional and informal justice in peacebuilding processes, in particular in post-conflict contexts. These concern in particular the support to the different dimensions of justice recovery:

  • Providing access to justice and preventing a resumption of violence;
  • Fostering social trust and community reintegration;
  • Contributing to transitional justice;
  • Supporting judicial system reform/(re)construction.

Providing access to justice and preventing a resumption of violence

The relevance of traditional/informal justice systems in the post-conflict settings stems from the idea that traditional/informal justice systems, albeit often seriously affected by violence, are likely to remain more intact than formal ones.16 According to a DFID report on "non-state justice systems," it is likely that those "will have operated in some form throughout the conflict period, and may play a critical role in the immediate aftermath of conflict where restoring security and rule of law is a high priority."17 Indeed, the formal justice system is often devastated or severely impaired by the war and frequently does not have the capacity or legitimacy to fill the gaps in social ordering and conflict resolution.18 It is generally estimated that rebuilding a formal justice system takes approximately two decades.19 In the interim, the traditional/informal one provides viable (if imperfect) modalities of dispute resolution, contributing to the prevention of the resumption of violence by not letting grievances accumulate, aggregate and go unaddressed.  

Traditional systems operating outside the confines of the state are usually the primary form of social control, dispute resolution, and reconciliation, especially with regard to familial matters and land tenure issues which are numerous in the aftermath of a war and are exacerbated by the displacements of population and return of refugees. "Traditional mechanisms exist and have done so for years, providing a strong system of both governance and reconciliation, outside of the formal mechanisms imposed by the Western world."20 In an insightful study of local justice practices in rural Peru, Kimberly Theidon reminds us that, ultimately, "Reconciliation is forged and lived locally, and state policies can either facilitate or hinder these processes."21 Some estimates that in developing countries eighty to ninety percent of civil matters are handled by the traditional/informal justice systems. 

As a UNDP report on informal justice systems notes: "In post-conflict countries, where formal mechanisms may have completely disappeared or been discredited, informal systems of dispute resolution may be crucial to restoring some degree of law and order, and they may be all that is available for many years. If there are no viable means of resolving societal disputes, the alternatives are either violence or conflict avoidance - which in itself is likely to lead to violence later."22 Numerous studies have shown that when neither formal nor informal mechanisms are functioning, human rights abuses and serious conflicts are more likely to occur. In a study of formal and informal dispute resolution systems amongst poor segments of rural Colombia, the incidence of communities taking matters into their own hands through vigilantism, "mob justice" or lynching is more than five times greater in communities where informal mechanisms are no longer functioning effectively and state presence remains limited. In other circumstances, breakdown of local frameworks can lead to different types of lawlessness.23

Through its immediate post-conflict functions, traditional/informal justice systems are considered to increase significantly peoples access to justice, in particular for the poor and disadvantaged.24 Access to justice is defined as "the ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice, and in conformity with human rights standards."25 Four main characteristics of traditional/informal justice systems explain their contribution to better access to justice:
  • Use of local languages: the language(s) used in traditional/justice systems is local and thus familiar to the average person, whereas the formal justice system generally uses only the official language(s) of the state, which may be unfamiliar to many people living in rural communities.
  • Geographical proximity: institutions of the formal justice system are usually located in the capital city or regional capitals, and are thus geographically remote from people living in rural communities.   Traditional/informal justice systems, on the other hand, are located in villages and are geographically easily accessible to people.
  • Cultural relevance: formal legal proceedings can be complicated and confusing, whereas traditional/informal ones are more familiar and easily understood; it has also a better chance to fit the priorities of the community and local implications of a conflict. Therefore, its verdicts may be better accepted.
  • Costliness: referring to the formal justice system can be costly and time-consuming because it often entails traveling long distances, paying transportation costs, and legal fees, all costs that are generally at the very least reduced with the traditional/informal justice; this system can also be more efficient as it is generally not bureaucratic.

In short, "informal justice systems are often more accessible to poor and disadvantaged people and may have the potential to provide quick, cheap and culturally relevant remedies."26 Moreover, in post-conflict societies, people may use traditional and informal justice systems not only because these systems outperform formal ones but also because they often deal with issues that the formal justice system does not, or they find solutions and deliver remedies in ways that are more relevant, effective or socially acceptable.27

"Informal justice systems are prevalent throughout the world, especially in developing countries. They are the cornerstone of dispute resolution and access to justice for the majority of populations, especially the poor and disadvantaged in many countries, where informal justice systems usually resolve between 80 and 90 percent of disputes."28
Go to judicial and legal system reform/(re)construction and access to justice subsection

Reasons for Not Using the Formal Justice System

1. Mistrust of the law, fear, intimidation
2. Lack of understanding - language issues, unfamiliarity of formal procedures and court atmosphere, low legal literacy
3. Unequal power relations
4. Physical and financial inaccessibility;
5. Formal systems are culturally uncomfortable
6. Formal system lacks legitimacy - can be complicit in conflict and past oppression, corruption
7. It usually takes a long time to process cases, opportunity costs
8. Going through the formal system may lead to more problems between the disputing parties

Source: Ewa Wojkowska, Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute(Oslo: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - Oslo Governance Centre, December 2006), 13.

Fostering social trust and community reintegration

It is generally believed that a unique contribution of traditional/informal justice systems is that they foster social trust and community reintegration in the aftermath of mass violence.  This belief stems from the observation that traditional justice is almost invariably based on communitarian notions of order and society, meaning that the primary issue at stake is the well-being of the community at large, and not only the interests of the victim. In such communities a dispute between individuals is perceived as "not merely...a matter of curiosity regarding the affairs of one's neighbour, but in a very real sense a conflict that belongs to the community itself."29 Each member of the community is tied to varying degrees to each of the disputants and, depending on the extent of these ties, will either feel some sense of having being wronged or some sense of responsibility for the wrong. In other words, "a conflict between two members of a community is regarded as a problem which afflicts the entire community. In order to restore harmony, therefore, there must be general satisfaction among the community at large, as well as the disputants, with the procedure and the outcome of the case. Public consensus is, moreover, necessary to ensure enforcement of the decision through social pressure."30 Justice, in this view, is essentially concerned with the restoration of a community's moral order and social harmony.

Justice according to local expectations and by local institutions may also be "more highly valued than that of state law and tribunals."31 Indeed, "in many contexts, the local law is no more than a paper somewhere which has nothing to do with the reality and the informal rules that have been developed, along the history, by the population."32 Acknowledging the existence of those rules and modalities may then help restoring a sense of justice for local people.

Justice in a strictly retributive sense (that is, meting out punishment) is generally not the exclusive or even primary objective of traditional/informal systems. As one report on traditional justice in Africa points out, "the traditional African sense of justice is not simply about isolating the retributive aspects of justice, as it is in the Western model.  Instead, retribution is but one part of an overarching process that also encompasses rehabilitation, reconciliation, compensation, and restoration. In other words, it is not just that retribution equals justice.  Indeed, justice itself is one component of restoring perpetrators back into harmony with the values of a community."33 "While the more formalized Western models allow for only one form of justice - retributive, restorative, or reparative - these traditional institutions seek to combine various of these and other elements in keeping with the values of the community."34 However, it is worth noting that this distinction between retributive and restorative/reparative justice is not always so clear as both national and international tribunals (in particular the International Criminal Court) have progressively carved out a larger role for the victims and some may provide for reparations.35

This holistic approach also includes the utilization of rituals, rites and symbols. "Genuine acceptance of a ruling is recognized as essential for the ending of hostilities between disputants and the restoration of harmony within the community. In order to confirm acceptance by both parties, they may be expected to eat from the same bowl or drink from the same cup. This forms part of the reconciliatory approach intrinsic to African traditional arbitration. It confirms the agreement and makes it notorious. The public also partake in the eating and drinking as an expression of the communal element inherently present in any individual conflict and of their acceptance of the offender back into the community."36 A large diversity of rites and symbols are used in different cultures. These range from very elaborate celebrations and ceremonies to more common rituals. These may include blood pact alliances, marriage, intimate friendships, and communal celebrations to consolidate peace. Others include eating and drinking together, the shaking of hands, and the exchange of gifts to show restoration of peace, as well as the slaughter of animals, and the exchange of dried coffee berries.37
Go to Northern Uganda case study (Acholi traditional justice system)

As a result, traditional/informal justice is thought "to strengthen levels of social trust and civic engagement within these societies, for if the people believe in and trust such mechanisms, it is believed that they will participate in the activities promoted by them."38 Because traditional/informal justice systems are by definition local and community-based, it is believed that they will foster the reconstruction of social trust among survivors:  "Traditional and informal justice systems are best suited to conflicts between people living in the same community who seek reconciliation based on restoration and who will have to live and work together in the future."39  Go to transitional justice and reconciliation

Contributing to transitional justice

While a detailed discussion of transitional justice is beyond the scope of the present section, it is important to briefly address the evolution of the field and its now important link with traditional justice. Broadly speaking, the field of transitional justice can be said to have witnessed three major trends40: a) the post-World War Two internationalization of justice as exemplified by the trials of German and Japanese war criminals; b) the politicization of justice in the 1980s and early 1990s through the establishment of non-judicial instruments such as truth commissions, especially in South America; c) the present period of hybridity/hybridization, where various transitional justice mechanisms (such as prosecutions, truth commissions, and local/"traditional" mechanisms) are simultaneously applied, such as in the case of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and East Timor.41  Go to case studies

The current interest in traditional justice stems from this third major trend in the evolution of transitional justice and the growing sense of disenchantment with international judicial approaches to post-conflict justice, namely the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR). As Diane Orentlicher, an international lawyer, asks, "Given the extraordinary range of national experiences and cultures, how could anyone imagine there to be a universally relevant formula for transitional justice?"42 Put differently, "transitional justice is not the monopoly of international tribunal or of states: communities also mobilize the ritual and symbolic elements of these transitional processes to deal with the deep cleavages left--or accentuated--by civil conflicts."43

But the subject of traditional approaches to transitional justice is quite new and has received little attention until recently: "Despite the burgeoning literature on transitional justice, scant attention has been paid to local justice mechanisms. The studies that do exist are mostly theoretical, macrolevel assessments of state-initiated mechanisms, rather than empirical, microlevel studies of how those mechanisms are actually functioning at the local level. There is even less scholarship on post-conflict dispute settlement mechanisms and reconciliation practices initiated at the local level, which, at times, may conflict with those initiated by the state."44

That said, some experiences with traditional justice mechanisms in a number of post-conflict settings, especially Rwanda, led some to question their legitimacy and effectiveness. In particular, some question the notion that traditional and informal justice systems can be used to deal with grave human rights violations, committed on a massive scale. Most of these systems were predominantly crafted to deal with property and commercial disputes, family matters and inheritance, not such serious crimes as murder, rape, torture, disappearances or other grave crimes inflicted on civilians in modern armed conflicts. To expect these systems to take up such matters, critics argue, is bound to lead to disillusionment and to distort their purposes and advantages.45 "Normative approaches are thus gradually giving way to more realistic, empirically based assessments of the potential role of traditional mechanisms within the broader reconciliation and transitional justice policy framework."46 

Supporting judicial system reform/(re)construction

Judicial reform and reconstruction in post-conflict settings has recently received greater attention and more donor funding, stemming from the "rule of law revival" and the "rule of law consensus." The animating idea behind this trend is that judicial reform and reconstruction activities advance good governance, promote economic development, and contribute to sustainable peace by providing mechanisms for the peaceful management of conflicts.47 Yet judicial reform activities in developing countries in general - and post-conflict countries in particular - have been the subject of important criticism. Critics have labeled the dominant approach in post-conflict settings as "programmatic minimalism": that is, judicial reform and reconstruction activities that are "largely replicable, standardized, culturally inoffensive and politically 'neutral' or inoffensive; they focus on the technical procedures and institutions rather than laws substance and ethos."48 Critics have argued that the problem with this technical and legalistic approach is that it fails to address the key obstacles to the rule of law, which are political and cultural. 

More often than not, these reform activities seek to resurrect the tangible institutions of a judicial system (courts, judges) without considering the historical specificities of a particular society. "Reforms have often lacked any clear theory about the roles and functions of justice systems, and have failed to consider how successful legal systems in developed countries were actually constructed--including how they gained authority and legitimacy. Local level context and the systems of justice actually operating in many contexts were largely ignored."49 Yet, this knowledge is important to ensure the adequacy and legitimacy of the system to be reformed/reconstructed. "Norms and customs are embedded in the rule systems and institutions that govern everyday life, which in turn serve to maintain and reinforce these systems of meaning. Much like languages, rules systems are deeply constituent elements of cultural norms and social structures."50 The advocates of legal pluralism support such an approach, albeit with a few nuances. This perspective does not necessarily focus on the particular rules applied in situations of dispute; it rather "examines the ways social groups conceive of ordering, of social relationships, and of ways of determining truth and justice. Law is not simply a set of rules exercising coercive power, but a system of thought by which certain forms of relations come to seem natural and taken for granted, modes of thought that are inscribed in institutions that exercise some coercion in support of their categories and theories of explanation."51

Traditional and informal justice systems are not exempt of flaws; these should be taken seriously. However, "this does not in any way mean that we can ignore their existence. Imposing formal mechanisms on communities without regard for the local level processes and informal legal systems may not only be ineffectual, but can actually create major problems. First, the failure to recognize different systems of understanding may in itself be discriminatory or exclusionary, and hence inequitable. Second, there are often very good reasons why many people chose to use informal or customary systems, which should be considered and understood. Third, there is ample evidence that ignoring or trying to stamp out customary practices is not working, and in some cases is having serious negative implications. Fourth, ignoring traditional systems and believing that top-down reform strategies will eventually change practice at the local level may mean that ongoing discriminatory practices and the oppression of marginalized groups in the local context goes unchallenged. Finally, focusing purely on state regimes and access to formal systems in some ways assumes that such systems can be made accessible to all, while clearly even in the most developed countries this is not the case."52
Go to judicial and legal system reform/(re)construction and access to justice

1. For an analysis of the impact of wars and mass violence on local social fabrics, see Béatrice Pouligny, "Building Peace in Situation of Post-Mass Crimes," International Peacekeeping 9, no. 2 (2002): 201-220.
2. Ibid. and Kimberly Theidon, "The Micropolitics of Reconciliation in Postwar Peru," Journal of Conflict Resolution 50, no. 3 (2006): 433-457.
3. See Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
4. For a balanced picture of the extent of that massive participation, see Scott Strauss "Origins and aftermaths: The dynamics of genocide in Rwanda and their post-genocide implications," in in After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities, ed. Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman, and Albrecht Schnabel (Tokyo and New York: United Nations University Press, 2007): 122-141.
5. Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, 272-273.
6. Kristina Thorne, Rule of Law through imperfect bodies? The informal justice systems in Burundi and Somalia (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, November 2005).
7. Erin K. Baines, "The Haunting of Alice: Local Approaches to Justice and Reconciliation in Northern Uganda," International Journal of Transitional Justice 1, no. 1 (2007), 114.
8. Leila Chirayath, Caroline Sage, and Michael Woolcock, "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," (Prepared as a background paper for the World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development, July 2005), 1.
9. Kristina Thorne, Rule of Law through imperfect bodies? The informal justice systems in Burundi and Somalia. Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre), November 2005.
10. United Nations Security Council, The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies, S/2004/616 (August 23, 2004), 12, para. 36.
11. Ibid., 4, para 7.
12. United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, A/Res/61/295, (October 2, 2007).
13. Building a Future on Peace and Justice: Report on the Major Findings of the Conference (International Conference: Building a Future on Peace and Justice, Nuremberg, Germany, June 25-27, 2007), 7, para.4.
14. Chirayath, Sage, and Woolcock. "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," 3.
15. Ibid., 4.
16. See Tracy Dexter and Philippe Ntahombaye, The Role of Informal Justice Systems in Fostering the Rule of Law in Post-Conflict Situations: The Case of Burundi (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, July 2005); see also Andre Le Sage, Stateless Justice in Somalia: Formal and Informal Rule of Law Initiatives (Geneva: Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, July 2005).
17. UK Department of International Development (DFID), Briefing: Non-state Justice and Security Systems, May 2004, 2.
18. Chirayath, Sage, and Woolcock. "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," 6.
19. See Kristi Samuels, Rule of Law Reform in Post-Conflict Countries: Operational Initiatives and Lessons Learnt (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, October 2006).
20. Joanna R. Quinn, "The Role of Informal Mechanisms in Transitional Justice," (Paper prepared for presentation on the panel "Transitional Justice: Local and International Dimensions," at the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Meeting, 2 June 2005), 10.
21. Theidon, "The Micropolitics of Reconciliation in Postwar Peru," 456.
22. Wojkowska, Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute, 5-6.
23. Chirayath, Sage, and Woolcock. "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," 6.
24. Wojkowska, Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute, 6.
25. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Programming for Justice: Access for All, A practitioners guide to a human rights-based approach to access to justice, 2005.
26. Wojkowska, Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute, 5.
27. Comment by Ewa Wojwoska, 25 September 2008.
28. Wojkowska, Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute, 5.
29. Penal Reform International (PRI), Access to Justice in Sub-Saharan Africa: the role of traditional and informal justice systems (London, November 2000),, 22.
30. Ibid., 26.
31. Yash Ghai, "In traditional societies, the jury is out on legal reform," UNESCO Courier, November 1999.
32. Beatrice Pouligny, "UN Peace Operations: INGOs, NGOs, and Promoting the Rule of Law: Exploring the Intersection of International and Local Norms in Different Postwar Contexts," Journal of Human Rights 2, no. 3 (2003), 373.
33. Lucy Hovil and Joanna R. Quinn, Peace First, Justice Later: Traditional Justice in Northern Uganda (Kampala, Uganda: Refugee Law Project, July 2005), 12.
34. Quinn, "The Role of Informal Mechanisms in Transitional Justice," 10.
35. Comment by Bill O'Neil, 28 May 2008.
36. PRI, Access to Justice in Sub-Saharan Africa: the role of traditional and informal justice systems, 34.
37. Quinn, "The Role of Informal Mechanisms in Transitional Justice," 15.
38. Ibid., 20.
39. PRI, Access to Justice in Sub-Saharan Africa: the role of traditional and informal justice systems, 3.
40. See Ruri Teitel, "Transitional Justice Geneology," Harvard Human Rights Journal 16 (2003): 69-94.
41. See, for example, Laura A. Dickinson, "The Promise of Hybrid Courts," American Journal of International Law 97, no. 2 (April 2003): 295-310.
42. Diane F. Orentlicher, "Settling Accounts Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency," International Journal of Transitional Justice 1, no. 1 (2007), 18.
43. Theidon, "The Micropolitics of Reconciliation in Postwar Peru," 436.
44. Lars Waldorf, "Mass Justice for Mass Atrocity: Rethinking Local Justice as Transitional Justice," Temple Law Review 79, no. 1 (Spring 2006), 3.
45. Comment by Bill O'Neil, 28 May 2008.
46. Luc Huyse, "Introduction: Tradition-Based Approaches in Peacemaking, Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Policies," in Traditional Justice and Reconciliation  after Violent Conflict: Learning from African Experiences, ed. Luc Huyse and Mark Salter (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2008), 6-7.
47. See Neil J. Kritz, "The Rule of Law in Conflict Management," in Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World, ed. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (Wahsington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007): 401-424.
48. Mani, Beyond: Retribution, 85.
49. Chirayath, Sage, and Woolcock. "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," 1.
50. Ibid., 2.
51. Merry Sally Engle, "Legal Pluralism," Law & Society Review 22, no. 5 (1988): 889
52. Leila Chirayath, Caroline Sage, and Michael Woolcock, "Customary Law and Policy Reform: Engaging with the Plurality of Justice Systems," (Prepared as a background paper for the World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development, July 2005), 5.


Salient features of traditional justice systems:

  • The problem is viewed as that of the whole community or group
  • An emphasis on reconciliation and restoring social harmony
  • Traditional arbitrators are appointed from within the community on the basis of status or lineage
  • A high degree of public participation
  • Customary law is merely one factor considered in reaching a compromise
  • The rules of evidence and procedure are flexible
  • There is no professional legal representation
  • The process is voluntary and the decision is based on agreement
  • An emphasis on restorative penalties
  • Enforcement of decisions secured through social pressure
  • The decision is confirmed through rituals aiming at reintegration
  • Like cases need not be treated alike

Source: Penal Reform International (PRI), Access to Justice in Sub-Saharan Africa: the role of traditional and informal justice systems (London, November 2000), 22.

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