Nepal is an ethnically and geographically diverse nation, where people rely on a wide range of formal and informal justice systems to resolve their disputes. This report explores community-level perceptions of these mechanisms, the current situation of access to justice among different community/ethnic groups, and the linkage between access to justice issues and local conflict dynamics. It highlights how informal justice remains the preferred method of dispute resolution for the majority of Nepalis and recommends the need for changing the attitudes, behaviours, and harmful cultural practices that repress large parts of Nepali society if the country is to ensure sustainable peace.
The report draws on responses gathered from participants at focus groups discussions and key informant interviews in each of the five of Saferworld’s Community Initiatives for Common Understanding (CICU) project districts.
While perceptions of informal justice vary, cost effectiveness, geographical proximity, swift decision-making, and predilection for maintaining social cohesion mean it has majority preference. However, informal justice mechanisms lack knowledge of, or guidance on, Nepali law and human rights standards to guide decisions on criminal cases involving serious crimes such as rape or murder. A number of factors contribute to the continued prevalence for informal justice mechanisms, including its embeddedness within Nepali tradition, its ability to promote social cohesion and the formal justice vacuum that emerged in the wake of the decade-long conflict which ended in 2006.
Efforts have been made to improve access to the formal justice system, including outreach programmes and an increase in resources to provide free legal support and make fees more affordable. However implementation has been poor. Issues of capacity and accountability remain, with persistent challenges of accessibility for the remote, poorer or marginalised communities and individuals which compound these issues. In all districts a lack of legal awareness, gender, caste, socio-economic status, geography, and language as well as extreme delays were reported as accessibility issues. Weak institutions lack transparency and accountability and allow for persistent political and economic interference which greatly reduces the effectiveness of formal justice systems in every district.
Deep-rooted patriarchal norms are severely impeding women’s access to justice in all 5 districts. Many community members identified traditional attitudes, a lack of gender sensitivity among all justice actors, and a lack of gender responsive services as major barriers to attaining formal and informal justices.
Where justice has not been considered appropriate or proportionate, tensions have remained among victims of reports land disputes, sexual and gender-based violence, and theft, resulting in suicide, divorce and murder. This has serious implications within many communities, giving rise to strained relations with the potential for conflict never far away.
As Nepal continues its transition to peace, ensuring access to justice for all is vital to ensuring non-recurrence of violent conflict, and a sustainable peace. Instrumental to achieving this is working to change attitudes, behaviours, and harmful cultural practices that repress large parts of Nepali society. Training on gender sensitivity for justice providers, and on Nepali law and human rights standards for informal justice actors; improved transparency and monitoring; a zero tolerance policy towards economic and political interference; and improved citizen awareness of their rights and how to vindicate them will be central to enhancing access to justice for all and positively impacting on local conflict dynamics.