International Alert is working with traditional and informal justice providers in Nepal to help them deliver fair, inclusive and accountable justice in their local communities.
The work, funded by the European Union, aims to ensure that local justice providers work in accordance with gender norms and human rights, and do not overstep their mandate by judging criminal cases.
Criminal cases, such as rape and domestic violence, should be referred to the formal justice system. Yet many local justice providers fail to do so, despite having neither the mandate nor training to handle them. This remains one of the biggest problems faced by poor and vulnerable victims in local communities in Nepal today.
To address this issue Alert, in collaboration with the Supreme Court and National Judicial Academy, has developed a set of ‘common principles’ of justice. The first of their kind in the country, they set out the basic principles of natural justice and the mandate of informal justice actors within the wider justice sector in Nepal. Our local partners, the Legal Aid and Consultancy Centre (LACC) and Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), are now working to train informal justice actors on these common principles in six districts in Nepal.
One of these districts is Kailali, where the ‘Bhalmansa’, traditional justice providers from the Tharu community, have been resolving disputes in the local community for generations. The majority of the Bhalmansa have never been trained on Nepal’s laws, the principles of natural justice, gender norms or international human rights standards. This means that they not only mediate in criminal cases, but that their decisions are often influenced by cultural norms and practices, or by interference from more powerful members of society, thereby undermining the ability of victims to obtain fair and equitable justice. However, victims from poor and vulnerable communities are reluctant to approach formal justice providers due to the high costs and physical distances involved, and a lack of trust. They therefore have little alternative to the informal providers.
Last month we held a training and orientation programme on the common principles for 28 Bhalmansa (pictured) in Dhangadi municipality, in partnership with LACC and FWLD. We hope that as a result of the training, justice decisions will be made in accordance with the principles of natural justice, that the Bhalmansa will know the difference between criminal and civil cases, and that in future criminal cases will be referred to the formal system.
We have also provided furniture, register books and bags to help set up a constructive space for the Bhalmansa to come together and share the knowledge and skills they have gained with other informal justice actors in the community. Since receiving this support, they have conducted two meetings and agreed to follow the common principles of justice while dealing with disputes in their local communities.