New Report: Informal Justice Systems and Human Rights
Monday, March 11, 2013 4:10 PM

UNWomen, UNICEF, and the UNDP commissioned a report from the Danish Institute for Human Rights on the role that Informal Justice Systems (IJS) play in developing countries. An informal justice system is a non-governmental system that effects and adjudicates the law.  In developing countries, these systems adjudicate up to 80% of disputes, according to UNWomen. Accordingly, this report examined the effect that informal justice systems have on the rights of women in a community, and the ways in which policy developers can engage with these systems for the purpose of furthering international human rights.

The report indicates that women are affected by informal justice systems in a variety of ways. First, depending on the structure of the system, women may not have access to legal remedies, and even if a woman can seek legal recourse, she may not be able to use a female advocate or female witnesses. Moreover, informal justice systems generally dictate a woman’s rights within the social structure—including the right to a divorce, right to own property, and rights to personal integrity and physical security.

Given the significant impact that informal justice systems play in perpetuating the cultural and legal status of women in a community, the report encourages advocates to engage these systems in order to promote compliance with international human rights standards. Doing so requires that informal justice systems be included in sector-level programming that promotes the education of adjudicators, accountability mechanisms, and enforced procedural regulations. Currently, in Zambia, there is a pilot program designed to connect paralegals with informal justice systems for the purpose of providing legal advice and counseling.

Compiled from: Amy Lieberman, “Rural Women Poised to Get More From Tribal Justice,” Women E-News (March 7, 2013); Danish Institute for Human Rights, “A Study of Informal Justice Systems: Charting a Course for Human-Rights Based Engagement” (January 9, 2013).