Case Studies

Case studies provide excellent insight into the practical challenges of SSR initiatives and provide an opportunity to learn from those that have been successful, and not so successful.  They help us to see the patterns of good practice, when to apply different approaches and what pitfalls to avoid.  Please add your own case studies to help us build a rich repository of examples from real experience.

Burundi: Civil Society Consultation and Oversight in SSR/D

The Burundian SSR/D process is unique for several reasons. The Arusha Accord’s attention to the ethnic balance of the Burundi security forces in the years following the civil war may have displaced needed attention to security governance, as evidenced by renewed fighting and frequent accusations against the police of human rights abuses. As part of the SSR/D process, the Burundian Defence Review included three pillars to assess the military, police, and the crosscutting theme of security sector governance. Unlike most train and equip-type SSR/D efforts, this programme gave more attention to local governance and the process of how local institutions earned public legitimacy through open, transparent, and inclusive processes. The military pillar, for example, included a UN Peacebuilding Fund project in strengthening military ethics and discipline through a “moralization” training for the military to improve the morality and behaviour of security personnel that could then improve the civil-military relationship. The overall purpose of the Defence Review was to identify diverse stakeholder’s security needs and perceptions through a participatory security assessment process. The process emphasized the diverse roles and the “matrix of responsibilities” of different stakeholders.

The “security governance pillar” focused on national ownership of the Defence Review process. The review assessed parliamentary roles and responsibilities for overseeing the security sector, to ensure it represented citizen’s interests. It also provided space and funding for civil society consultation, participation and oversight in security governance.


When the Defence Review began, tensions were high between civil society, the government, and the security sector, especially the police. In 2009, a civil society leader fighting government corruption was assassinated. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Intelligence denounced and threatened civil society, requiring all CSOs to obtain permission to hold public meetings and de-registering the main Burundian CSO network, the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society (FORSC), until pressured to reverse the decision. [62] Early in the program, military leaders and some Parliamentarians objected to having civilians involved in discussing security and strongly opposed civil society oversight or monitoring of the security sector. Through the Defence Review process, multi-stakeholder security dialogue led by skilled facilitators, built trust and appreciation that diverse civil society stakeholders held legitimate roles and responsibilities in security sector governance.

The Defence Review set up a Governance Advisory Group and chose two Burundian civil society organizations with experience on peace and security issues Conflict Alert and Prevention Centre (CENAP) and the Centre des Femmes pour la Paix/Women’s Centre for Peace (CFP/WPC) to participate. The Governance Advisory Group played a variety of roles, from guidance and advice on programme activities, to evaluating the impact of activities, coordinating and overseeing the security governance in the entire SSD program.

As part of its role in the Defence Review, CENAP structured wide public consultation to support the SSR/D process. [63] With experience in conflict assessment and early warning, CENAP already had a positive track record on security issues. CENAP collected views of what was needed to create long-term peace from a representative sample of the Burundian population through focus groups, interviews, audio-visual sessions, and national forums. CENAP facilitated consultations with diverse local civil society organizations, women, youth, refugees, religious leaders, students, media, political parties and demobilized soldiers, CENAP organized dialogue groups in both rural and urban areas as well as national task forces on four identified challenges: illegal circulation of weapons; poverty and unemployment; attitudes during elections; and transitional justice and reconciliation. The consultations with diverse segments of Burundi society documented that people of different regions, classes and ethnic identities had different security challenges. [64] Research documented that most security threats did not have a military solution, highlighting the roles and responsibilities of other stakeholders.

The CFP/WPC supported consultation with women and girls, include female ex-combatants to ensure the public consultation was gender sensitive and included advocacy for women’s rights and the involvement of Burundian women in the peace and reconciliation process, particularly in light of UN resolution 1325’s mandate for women’s involvement in peace processes. CFP and CENAP also contributed in mobilization of civil society, including those of women and youth, to get understand security sector reform and on their role in supporting peace consolidation.

An example illustrates how civil society participated in SSR. Military and police units began hosting “open days” where the public could visit non-sensitive sites to dialogue with and improve relationships and understanding. On one military open day, civil society representatives from human rights and women’s organizations worked together with military officers to evaluate different military units as they demonstrated how they would protect a village from a rebel attack in an“ethics competition.” The participating military units with the highest rating won a prize and public recognition. [65] This exercise marked a new milestone in Burundian civil society oversight of the security sector.

Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


[62] Brigette Butt. Evaluation of Burundian Peacebuilding Programme. Interpeace, May 2010. p. 13.

[63] See Willy Nindorera. Security Sector Reform in Burundi: Issues and Challenges for Improving Civilian Protection. CENAP and North-South Institute. July 2007.

[64] Burundi Defence Review: Lessons Learned. Conflict, Security and Development Research Group (CSDRG), Department of War Studies, King’s College London in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Development in Burundi (IDEC). June 2014. P. 43.

[65] Found originally in Nicole Ball, Putting governance at the heart of security sector reform: Lessons from the Burundi-Netherlands Security Sector Development Programme. Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. March 2014. P. 41.

Case Study

DRC: Transforming the Congolese Armed Forces

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen the deadliest conflict since World War II. Following the overthrow of former President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, the country was plunged into several civil and regional wars, involving dozens of non-state armed groups battling with remnants of the Congolese army. The result was a death toll reaching 6 million, the destruction of rule of law, and a complete breakdown in the role of the Congolese Armed Forces in their obligation to protect Congolese civilians. The conflict led to the DRC being labelled the “rape capital of the world”59 due to the frequency and intensity of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) inflicted by soldiers, non-state armed actors, bandits, criminals and even community members against women and men.

International civil society organisations responded to these extreme abuses largely through condemnation or seeking to use the UN or other international channels to pressure the government to discipline its soldiers. However, this had little effect on the abusive behaviour of the soldiers, and resulted rather in polarizing relationships between the civil society organisations and the Congolese Armed Forces, who felt attacked and not supported by these groups.


In 2006, faced with this situation, Search for Common Ground took another approach, building buy-in from the Congolese Armed Forces themselves for a programme that would use the military’s own in-house capacity to sensitise their own units and build bridges of cooperation with the communities they were meant to protect.

“We began another type of conversation with them. One about enabling them to become protectors, not perpetrators,” explained Lena Slachmuijlder, SFCG’s Country Director atthe time. “We listened, and heard that deep down, they also wanted to change. They knew that if the communities didn’t trust them, but feared them, that their own security was in danger. And they weren’t proud of their record of abuses. We created educational tools to resonate with the soldiers’ sense of self-esteem.” [1]

SFCG also recognized that part of the obstacle was deep trauma and resulting prejudice and stereotypes by the communities, particularly in eastern DRC. These attitudes prevented the type of information sharing and collaboration that the soldiers depended upon to be able to effectively combat the armed groups and protect the communities under attack. The programme was thus designed to seek to change the perceptions by these communities, and have them participate in the overall reform process of the security sector in the DRC.

The first iteration of the program, entitled “Tomorrow is a New Day: Transforming Security Forces from Perpetrators to Protectors” began in 2006 with a pilot in the South Kivu province. Since 2006, SFCG has expanded the programmenationwide, reaching more than 40,000 Congolese soldiers of all ranks across the country in a programmethat is “about them” and “not against them.”

The project aimed to shift perceptions and attitudes around civil-military relations. It aimed to raise general awareness about the Congolese Armed Forces’ responsibility to respect human and protect civilians and build bridges of trust and collaboration among soldiers and civilians, particularly in the war-affected communities.

A key factor of success was the internal support the project was able to secure. The ‘Armed Forces Pastors’ (“Aumoniers”, in French), which occupied hierarchical ranks within the Congolese Armed Forces, and the Programme of Civic and Patriotic Education, a unit which had been legally mandated by the Congolese Armed Forces Headquarters to train soldiers and that was headed by an experienced and respected General, were in favour of the project. The collaboration with the Education Unit permitted the pilot project to scale to a national level and maintain official buy-in at all stages of the project over the last 10 years.

Some of the program’s key elements were:

Interactive Training Materials for Soldiers

SFCG designed innovative training materials, which the soldiers themselves were able to understand and then deliver to their peers. This included translating human rights, civilian protection, SGBV and conflict transformation training into accessible ‘image boxes’ with simple training manuals, supported by pre-recorded audio sketches in local languages and comic books. The soldiers were trained in how to shift from one-directional communication to participatory methods in their trainings. The soldiers were even trained in how to build improvised participatory theatre sketches to translate the human rights and protection principles into accessible real-life examples in front of their units. SFCG worked with a documentary filmmaking team to produce a curriculum-driven educational film with a focus on sexual violence and masculinity, with a discussion guide, for outreach to the units. SFCG trained soldiers to be able to use this film and facilitate discussions, which included discussions about their role as soldiers, their own trauma, their own sense of strength and masculinity. [2]  

Community Outreach

After the project had gained traction by training thousands of soldiers within the various brigades and battalions, the Armed Forces committees then were coached as to how to design solidarity activities to build bridges of trust with the communities they were meant to protect. The criteria for these events relied on the soldiers and the local civil society organisations’ joint assessment of the most damaged relationships. This meant that, for example, the Congolese Navy initiated actions with the local fishermen; the Military Police initiated collaboration with University Students, and Units in Bukavu worked closely with local women’s organisations. These activities included soccer matches, clean-up activities, town hall meetings, marathons, and longer-term collaborations including joint farming projects.

Changing Social Norms

SFCG also used its expertise in communication for conflict transformation to reach a mass audience through radio and television programmes and comic books. A radio drama series in Lingala and Swahili was broadcast nationwide, featuring a dynamic cast of military and civilian characters whose daily lives reflected the drama, crises and collaborative solutions that were gradually coming to be a reality through the project. The programmes clarified key issues around the Security Sector Reform process, including how civilians and the army could best collaborate to ensure civilian protection. Other magazine format radio programmes reported on efforts to combat impunity by the mobile courts (“audiences foraines”), which were moving around communities to sentence military perpetrators of serious crimes. Hundreds of thousands of comic books were distributed around the country, portraying the negative and positive roles of soldiers and civilians, reinforcing and popularizing the social acceptability of the changes that were underway. Billboards were put up in specific communities, as well as murals painted on the regional military headquarters with powerful imagery demonstrating the protective role of the Congolese Armed Forces working hand in hand with civilians.

These various forms of media also reinforced each other. The main character in the comic book and radio drama was a certain ‘Captain Janvier’; his name became so popular amongst military and civilians as the ‘bad guy’ that it became a frequent reference in every day conversations and discussions within the military units and amongst the general public. SFCG also launched complementary media initiatives, including one called ‘the Real Man’ (“Vrai Djo”), which highlighted examples of men, including soldiers, doing the ‘right thing’ faced with a temptation to abuse or harass a woman. This was also used in outreach and discussions with soldiers and the communities.

Measuring Impact

Within the highly fragile context of DRC, traditional monitoring was often challenging. A major measure of change however was the shift in perception of protection by the civilians before and after the project worked with soldiers deployed in their community. For example, in one evaluation, 54% of the populations of the areas of intervention reported relationships with the military as being good to very good, compared to only 32% in control areas. There were also powerful qualitative measures of change, such as the ability of a military unit that had participated in the programme to undertake an important, high-risk military operation in Katanga, without committing any human rights abuses. And the relationship building between communities and the soldiers led to numerous examples of collaborative problem solving and a de-stigmatization of the relationships.

Overall this programme has inspired multiple projects within Search for Common Ground in Tanzania, Nigeria and Nepal. These experiences continue to reinforce the value of the Common Ground approach to the security sector, grounded in strengthening relationships of collaboration and enabling people to drive forward their own transformation.

Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


[1] See (Accessed on 28 August 2014)
[2] See A Soldiers Story: Ending Military Abuses. Found at: (Accessed 28 August 2014).

Case Study

Afghanistan: “Democratic Policing”

In addition to the challenges of lack of training, policies, facilities and public trust, Afghanistan was a testing ground for multiple interventions to reform the police all happening at the same time. These included initiatives related to counterinsurgency policing, counter-narcotics policing, intelligence-led policing, arming local communities to act like police, and community or democratic policing. Each approach relied on a distinct analysis of the security problems and relied on different, if not competing, theories of how to improve policing. While many programmes assumed the problem with policing stemmed from a lack of weapons or training in how to use them, or a problem of discipline and corruption, or a lack of training in human rights, one police programme took a different approach based on the belief that public lack of trust in and community relationships with the police was the fundamental problem.


Recognizing the need to coordinate police reform and development with governance, justice reform, disarmament, and other government efforts, the Afghan Ministry of Interior asked the UN Development Programme to conduct research and write a strategy paper for police-community engagement in the Afghan context. Consultations with diverse stakeholders including parliamentarians, NGOs, media, academics, and police personnel, and community members, especially vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic minorities and economically deprived communities, provided. Unlike other police reform efforts, this programme was “people-oriented” and was almost completely Afghan-led, with Afghan civil society organizations playing a prominent role in designing the program.

The Afghan Civil Society Forum-organization (ACSFo) and other civil society groups helped to facilitate the research and design of the programme known as Police e Mardumi (in Dari language) or Da Toleni Police (in Pashto language). While similar to other community policing programmes in other countries, it was referred to as the “democratic policing” programme to distinguish it from the confusing use of the term “community policing” within the Afghan context to refer to a parallel programme also known as the Afghanistan Local Police (ALP) initiative, based on arming community fighters to protect their own region. The democratic policing programme had four main components: training of the community and police first separately and then together; developing neighbourhood watch committees made up of community members; facilitating community-police dialogue at the local, district and provincial levels; and problem-solving forums and mechanisms to invite public reporting on security concerns.

The programme began with three types of training. While other police training programmes focused more on the “hard security” skills of enemy identification, use of weapons and force, the democratic policing programme spent two weeks focusing primarily on the “soft skills” of Islamic-based human rights, communication skills, leadership skills and conflict resolution methods, psychosocial counselling, legal issues related to rights of vulnerable groups and police and state roles and responsibilities. Police received training in human rights and police procedures relating to detention. A separate training for the community provided skills in advocacy and encouragement to see police not as “big men” who could not be approached, but as public servants whose job requires them to listen to community members. A third set of training brought the police and community together to learn about the rule of law. Unlike other police training programmes that relied heavily on interpreters and lectures, this democratic policing programme used roleplays, pictures and group dialogue to foster practical learning and build relationships in the training. This was important given the high rates of illiteracy.


Relationship building and joint problem solving were central features of this democratic policing program. A neighbourhood watch committee formed in each community. It was made up of seven community members, including at least one or two women. In some communities, religious leaders also participated in the neighbourhood watch program. Religious leaders have historically played important roles in overseeing the security sector, so could lend the project a sense of legitimacy.

ACSFo and other civil society groups facilitated bimonthly meetings between police and communities, including the neighbourhood watch committees. At these meetings, the community identified security challenges and designed local strategies to solve them. For example, the community could report on their concerns for children’s safety walking to school and together with the police, they could develop a plan for protecting school children. In some cases, these community-police forums expanded beyond public safety concerns toward a broader human security agenda. In Samangan province, for example, the community identified water scarcity as a primary threat to their security. In some cases, police-community meetings at district level were very tense. The programme facilitators decided to focus on the provincial level instead. Community representatives brought their concerns about police bribery, corruption and laziness to the provincial chief of police. At the next month’s meeting, the chief of police came with answers to the community and commitments to address the problems. These meetings increased police accountability to the public. Police realized they could be fired for reports from the community based on their performance.


In addition, the democratic policing project created two mechanisms for public to report information and grievances to or about the police. Police stations set up “information desks” and created call-in hotlines and/or complaint and suggestion boxes to receive information and complaints from the public. The complaint and suggestion boxes were distributed in front of schools, parks, and mosques. Every fifteen days, representatives from the police, community, local government and a religious leader would open these boxes and decide how to respond. For example, in one case a girl put in a complaint in front of her school naming the location of a man whom she had seen kill a woman. In another case, someone made a complaint against a specific government official who was corrupt and not doing his job. In the case of a group of girls that had run away from home to escape force child marriage, the community and police were able to negotiate with families and find ways of returning many girls to their homes and allowing them to continue their education. Most of the complaints were anonymous, making it difficult to investigate some accusations. But in some cases, the boxes provided needed information about how to protect the community.

In provinces with severe violence, such as Kunduz, the information desks and crisis response hotlines were the only feature of this programme in operation. There were no participatory dialogues where community members could discuss security threats and options for addressing them with the local police. It was assumed that the democratic policing concept to facilitate dialogue between police and community members would not work in these regions.[1] However, Afghan media worked with civil society and the Ministry of the Interior to produce a large scale public awareness campaigns using mobile phones, social media, and TV and radio dramas to provide the public with a positive vision of the police as well as citizen rights and information on how to use the 119 crisis response hotline.


The Afghan Civil Society Forum-organization and other civil society groups also monitored and reported on the progress of the program, building in a system of civil society oversight and accountability of the police to the public. Both police and community members believed that the problem-solving, participatory process to identify security threats and develop human security strategies between the police and the community improved their relationship. [2]


Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


[1] Doel Mukerjee and Mushtaq Rahim. “Police e Mardumi: Indigenous District-Level Civilian Policing in Afghanistan” in Global Community Policing. Edited by Arvind Verma, Dilip K. Das, and Manoj Abraham. CRC Press Taylor and Francis Group, 2013. p. 58.
[2] See Afghan Civil Society Forum-organization. “Baseline Study for Pilot Democratic Policing Across 8 Districts of Northern Kabul Province.” Published in cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the UN Development Program. March 2010.

Case Study

Afghanistan: Mediation-based DDR

International priorities on counterterrorism delayed and contorted Afghanistan’s DDR program. The 2001 Bonn Agreement after the Taliban fell did not include DDR. DDR began in Afghanistan in 2003 to address anti-Taliban militias. The first DDR programme offered individual former militia commanders political appointments as an incentive to go through DDR. This had the negative side effect of setting into place political appointees who the public accused of human rights abuses and corruption. [1] Rewarding these militia leaders with political appointment created a sense that counterterrorism was more important than human rights or the rule of law. It entrenched public distrust in the Afghan government and in turn also contributed to Taliban recruitment.


Without setting up DDR encampments to entice whole militia units to go through DDR together, donor governments channelled lower level former militia went through an individual DDR process. Beginning with soldiers giving up their weapons in a parade and attending a demobilization workshop in which they promised not to take up arms again, the programmes offered demobilized individuals a package of food and clothing. However, without a peace agreement in place, DDR did not stick. Some demobilized combatants turned back to militia groups and some went to the drug trade. [2] At best DDR was a waste of time and money. At worse, the contentious political appointments resulting from these efforts entrenched public distrust of the Afghan government and increased Taliban recruitment.

A new generation of DDR programmes imagined that local Taliban commanders and their groups could disarm together through a mediated process that would address local grievances. A story from Helmand Province inspired this new model. An armed opposition group had agreed to stop fighting the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), reject out of area fighters, remove or show the location of planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices), allow freedom of movement to patrols, and accept Afghan National Security Force checkpoints. In return, the Afghan government agreed to increase Afghan security forces to ensure that there are Afghans partnered in all home search and patrols with international forces to address widespread complaints of international forces searching Afghan homes. The Afghan government also promised to begin short-term cash for work and long-term economic development opportunities for ex-combatants.

Afghan civil society was the only stakeholder in Afghanistan with the capacity to design and carry out a mediation-based DDR model. Afghan civil society organizations (CSOs) have been carrying out peacebuilding programmes in Afghanistan since the early 1990s to mediate water and land disputes, domestic violence and family issues as well as conflicts within community development councils over setting development priorities. One Afghan CSO [3] designed a programme to harness Afghan peacebuilding capacity to this new generation of DDR. The Afghan CSO facilitated a pilot DDR programme based on mediation and grievance resolution from October 2010 through January 2011 in 3 provinces and 16 communities including the following components.

Rapid Response Team: The Afghan government identified emerging reintegration opportunities. Government staff provided permission letters to the Afghan CSO’s field staff to conduct an independent assessment of economic, ideological, political and security grievances among the reintegrees and the communities to which they would return. This step provided information about the core grievances driving the insurgency. Those interviewed included commanders, reintegrees and members of communities ranging from households to elders and religious leaders, labourers, traders, and district level political leadership. This assessment helped identify potential “internally-generated” incentives for DDR including face-saving mechanisms for reintegrating, local security guarantees, and promoting local coexistence so as to foster successful reintegration rather than relying on “externally-generated” incentives such as financial payments.


Provincial and Local Community Mediation and Grievance Resolution: Government authorities identified a mix of diverse provincial leaders to join Provincial Peace and Reintegration Committees. The Afghan CSO trained provincial and local mediation and grievance resolution teams composed of two representatives from each group: government representatives, members of non-state armed opposition groups, and community representatives including local village elders, local mullahs, and community members.

In some communities, local peace committees already existed as part of the nation-wide network of existing Community Development Councils. Where there were no peace committees, the Afghan CSO helped to set them up.

The mediation process included three phases. First, the process identified each stakeholder’s key issues or grievances necessary to reach a DDR agreement. Second, the mediation explored options for resolving each of the issues. Third, the mediation developed a signed agreement that met all stakeholders’ interests. By the end of January 2011, the Afghan CSO had trained 400 people in three provinces to help the reintegrees and communities cope with reintegration, leveraging both formal and informal justice systems. The programme also improved local capacity for addressing longer term conflicts directly related to the reintegrees as well as other issues such as local disputes over land, water, debts, domestic violence and other community issues.


Monitoring and Assessment Team: Afghan CSO research teams of four to six members monitored the roll out of the DDR programme in three provinces. The research teams also conducted focus groups to identify the effects of reintegration on the community, and track overall human security at the village and district level. To do this, the CSO developed a research tool based on locally identified human security indicators measuring people’s ability to move around, provide for their families and access governance systems and service. The human security indicator tool measured the accuracy of perceptions by counting actual events, such as the number of visits made to specific districts by local, provincial and national government representatives and the number of police interaction with the community. The research monitored trends and changes of both the former combatants and the communities into which they were reintegrating in terms of physical security, freedom of movement, economic well-being and access to governance and justice. The methodology provided direct comparison across provinces, including both qualitative and quantitative information delivered on a monthly and quarterly basis. The Afghan CSO then wrote policy recommendations for security policymakers based on the human security research.

Future DDR in Afghanistan: Political opposition to this approach eventually made it impossible for this programme to continue. Some of the former militia leaders cum provincial leaders who had benefited from political appointments during the first round of DDR may have obstructed a mediation-based DDR effort that would bring a new set of political rivals from the battleground. However, a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan will create an unprecedented urgency for DDR. [4] The lessons from this peacebuilding approach to DDR will be essential to avoid the failures of past DDR processes such as technical fixes and short-sighted political appointments that undermine human security. DDR must address underlying grievances and needs, and reknit social relationships.

Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


[1] Patricia Gossman. Transitional Justice and DDR: The Case of Afghanistan. International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). June 2009.
[2] Caroline A. Hartzell. Missed Opportunities The Impact of DDR on SSR in Afghanistan. US Institute of Peace Special Report 270. April 2011.
[3] The name of the Afghan CSO is withheld intentionally given the security risks to civil society in Afghanistan.
[4] DeeDee Derksen. Reintegrating Armed Groups in Afghanistan: Lessons from the Past. US Institute of Peace. PeaceBrief 168, March 7, 2014.

Case Study

Nepal: Improving Access to Justice

Although security has improved overall since the peace agreement in 2006, violence against women and girls is perceived to be on the increase in Nepal. Domestic violence is widespread including beatings, intimidations and food rationing by family members or neighbours. But discriminatory socio-cultural practices such as polygamy, child marriage, dowry disputes, limited access to property or citizenship rights or witchcraft accusations are also rampant on the local level.


These grievances are countered by a very weak response from official security and justice actors. Although policy-makers have ratified progressive legislation, discriminatory attitudes or interference by political parties in formal justice institutions prevent many women and girls, in particular those belonging to ethnic minorities, to report their cases. Victims of SGBV may often not read nor speak the language of the court and may feel generally intimidated or discouraged by the formal procedures. Instead, they increasingly turn to informal justice institutions such as traditional village courts or mediation committees. But these informal mechanisms are just as prone to discrimination or interference. Since the state has little oversight over the informal justice sector, they leave the needs of women and girls largely unaddressed and allow perpetrators of serious crimes to evade formal punishment.

In order to improve the state oversight of informal mechanisms and improve access to justice for women and girls in Nepal, International Alert has worked in three main areas:

Training Informal Justice Providers
In collaboration with the Supreme Court of Nepal and the National Judicial Academy International Alert worked with two local civil society organizations, the Legal Aid and Consultancy Center (LACC), a legal resource organization that promotes women’s access to justice, and the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), an NGO that works for the protection, promotion and enjoyment of human rights. Together they trained almost 500 informal justice providers on the basic principles of Nepal’s law and its justice system including international gender and human rights norms. Through the trainings, informal justice providers increased their knowledge and understanding of the formal justice system and the principles on which it operates. They understood their own role within the larger system, their mandate to handle civil disputes, and how they could complement the work of the courts in order to provide more equitable and fair justice, especially to women and girls.

Pushing for Institutional Progress
As part of on-going judicial reform in Nepal, the judiciary created a provision for Continuous Hearing to ensure speedier justice delivery by the courts and reduce large case backlogs. However, for some time this provision had not been implemented at the district level because district judges and court officials lacked a clear understanding of the procedures required to implement it and because of a lack of coordination among the different justice sector actors.
Recognising that justice seekers turned to informal justice providers even for criminal cases because of the speed of their judgements, International Alert collaborated with the Supreme Court to organize briefings for judges in the courts in six districts to discuss how to implement Continuous Hearing. The briefings resulted in the adoption of the practice of Continuous Hearing by these six courts, demonstrating that justice could be delivered more swiftly in the courts, and eventually official guidance for Nepal’s other district courts to replicate this practice.

Raising Public Awareness
International Alert has also been engaging in a broad public outreach campaign in Nepal. The aim is to make female justice seekers aware of their rights and increase their understanding of the justice system. The campaign included discussion programmes on problems of access to justice that were broadcast on radio stations in six districts and a video documentary about access to justice problems related to addressing SGBV that was broadcast on national TV and Facebook. In three districts, International Alert provided public information on women’s rights, the law relating to SGBV and justice procedures through a mobile documentary show that reached approximately 500 members of the public in schools and other public meeting places.

One hundred and twenty non-state justice providers took part in exposure visits to courts, police stations, public attorney offices, Women and Children’s Development Offices and other parts of the state justice system to demystify state procedures. Participants met with officials, including judges, and in at least one district (Banke), received presentations on how the state providers worked. The visits were also an opportunity for the state providers to request that criminal cases be referred to them and not be handled in the community.

Working with the Women and Children’s Development Offices in six districts, International Alert and its partners held twelve public information sessions on the Government’s GBV Reduction Fund. This Fund existed but was largely not being used because the local government structures were not sure of how or when to use it. The information session served a dual purpose of helping local government officials and WCDO officers understand how they could use the fund to assist victims of GBV, and gave victims and communities members at large an induction to the Fund and what women could request from local government representatives.

Excerpt from the book Local Ownership in Security: Case Studies of Peacebuilding Approaches edited by Lisa Schirch with Deborah Mancini-Griffoli and published by The Alliance for Peacebuilding, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Case Study