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Working Group on Customary and Informal Justice and SDG16+

The global justice gap

More than five billion people live outside the protection of the law and are excluded from shaping it. As a result, they are often denied their rights, marginalised, displaced from land, and subjected to violence without remedy. Experience of injustice is acknowledged as a key conflict driver. To tackle this global justice gap, the 2030 Agenda commits UN Member States to ensure equal access to justice for all, articulated in SDG16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and specific targets associated with other SDGs (collectively, SDG16+).

To fulfil the promise of SDG16+, the global justice community needs to engage effectively with customary and informal justice (CIJ), which refers to the wide variety of contexts justice seekers utilise a broad spectrum of alternative, community based, indigenous, religious, and other systems to dispense justice or resolve disputes. In fragile and conflict-affected settings, the vast majority (by some estimates, 80-90%) of disputes and grievances are addressed by CIJ systems, due to lack of capacity or low public confidence in formal statutory systems. CIJ systems are often more grounded in the communities they serve and more accessible than formal systems, however CIJ systems tend to reflect unequal power dynamics and conservative social norms, with particularly adverse effects for women, those living in poverty, and marginalised groups

While CIJ systems coexist and intersect with formal or statutory law in almost every country, the global justice community remains predominantly focused on formal justice, replicating solution driven assumptions about how equal access to justice can be achieved. A sharper understanding of the complexities around CIJ systems is needed to operationalize engagement and help realise equal access to justice for all.

A global alliance on customary and informal justice

The Working Group on CIJ and SDG16+ (WP CIJ) is a global alliance that draws together over 6o organisations in the justice sector to accelerate action on achieving access to justice for all and build consensus about what it will take to the close the SDG16+ implementation gap in the lead-up to the second SDG Summit in 2023.

The Working group has come together in the belief that equal access to justice for all cannot be realised without engaging the systems that most people—and the most excluded constituencies—already turn to; those systems, in turn, must be subject to the same basic standards of effectiveness, accountability and transparency as state institutions.

Our shared vision

Our shared vision is of a world in which all people have equal access to justice that meets their needs, provided by systems which are inclusive, responsive, effective, and consistent with human rights norms and standards; in which states understand CIJ systems as playing a central role in people-centred justice and the rule of law in their distinct contexts; in which donors support and invest in access to justice across a spectrum of justice providers; and in which civil society has the space and capacity to empower justice seekers, safeguard their rights, and demand accountability from all justice providers.

Our goals

The WP CIJ’s goal is to create an enabling policy environment, at national and global levels, for governments, development partners, and civil society to engage effectively with CIJ in efforts to build more coherent and inclusive justice systems, which will contribute to achieving equal justice for all. We will achieve this by:

  1. Catalysing collective action across Working Group member organisations
  2. Strengthening the policy-relevant evidence base on understanding and engaging with CIJ systems
  3. Building policy consensus and drive more relevant and effective justice investments

For additional information on the Working Group please contact Pilar Domingo <[email protected]> or Lisa Denney <[email protected]>.

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