Case Studies

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

Mainstreaming Gender in the framework of the Nepal Justice Sector Assessment (Norwegian mandate)

Norway mandated ISSAT to map an overview of the Nepalese population’s emerging needs and identification of possible areas for future programmatic support related to justice sector reform.

From conception, the mandate strived to incorporate gender perspectives into the methodology by creating a diverse team of experts with profiles that were able to reflect upon the full spectrum of security and justice challenges.  This meant that the team did not select female or male members so as to create a gender-balanced team, but instead prioritising the knowledge of each expert. Hence, the ISSAT team included a regional expert, who had previous in-depth knowledge and understanding of governance, security, and justice issues in Nepal, as well as two further experts who were able to capture links between gender and the sector areas or issues being dealt with, in the aim to promote gender equality whether in developing policy or initiatives in specific institutions. 

The mandate focused on the identification of the institutional gaps stemming from unmet needs of some of the most vulnerable individuals/groups. For example, cognisant of the endemic level of gender-based violence in Nepal, the team engaged ten local organisations that specifically worked on gender-related abuses to guide in the data collection. The team further articulated in its methodology, the need for institutions to become more responsive to the security and justice needs of women/girls by enabling more access and providing more inclusive approaches to gaining access.

The methodology employed the collection of sex-disaggregated information to capture the specific gender-related vulnerabilities, gaps and issues. To provide recommendations conducive to the goal of reaching a basic level of justice provision, the team took into account the diverse needs of the population by using a methodology aimed to mainstreamgender perspectives throughout the mandate as part of a set of critical core issues. For example, to ensure that the assessment process was gender sensitive, the ISSAT team mainstreamed gender via key questions relevant to some of the most vulnerable groups, and integrated sex-disaggregated data collection in order to create an evidence base. In addition, the mandate’s Terms of Reference articulated the requirement of an Options Paper, so as to gain a clearer analysis on specific issues that relate to gender.  For example, for many women, marginalised communities and children, social barriers remain the primary obstacle preventing access to justice. The social barriers differ substantially amongst ethnic groups and can range from lack of economic empowerment, traditional values, or even established practice at community level.

Understanding that substantive progress in security and justice reform will likely be a determining factor in the extent to which the Government of Nepal will be able to achieve meaningful and sustainable progress across all Sustainable Development Goals beyond just Goal 16, the team presented the crucial link to gender equality (goal 5). Therefore, the report reiterates incorporating a gendered analysis across all sections.

Proposed takeaways:

  1. There is a proved benefit to engaging with local partners to identify the most vulnerable and marginalised groups and disaggregating justice needs based on age, ethnicity, geographic location etc. 
  2. The inclusion of professionals with relevant diverse expertise who have a cross-cutting gender lens, played a critical role in determining and capturing clear linkages between gender and broader issues such as access to justice, and gender-related threats such as human trafficking and modern day slavery (to name a few) which disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized groups, and significantly children, women, and members of lower caste who are more at risk.
  3. The added value of providing an Options Paper as one of the outputs, specifically targeting gender equality, ensures that gender is a core issue with complex characteristics (encompassing class, race, religious affiliation and poverty levels) and thus needs to be addressed consistently to promote more gender responsive and inclusive security and justice institutions.
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Policy and Research Papers

Justice should be blind, but is the international community's support to informal justice mechanisms in Nepal given blindly

This paper builds on questions raised by earlier Saferworld research into IJMs, conducted between November 2009 and April 2010. This research revealed a complex and seemingly disjointed patchwork of donor-supported IJM projects, most of which were operating at a fairly small scale and without clear links either to formal or to other informal justice mechanisms. The research raised a number of challenging questions, including how and why donors first began supporting new IJMs, whether and how these new systems contribute to the strengthening of a broader system of justice in Nepal and to what extent their creation has supported ongoing peacebuilding efforts across the country.


From Conflict to Peace in Nepal: Peace Agreements 2005-10

This book is a witness of historical events and facts in the first fiveyears of Nepal’s peace process between 2005 and 2010. Some ofthe documents in this book are legal documents such as theComprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), being an annex to the InterimConstitution of Nepal 2007. Some can be interpreted as politicaldocuments. However, one thing in common for all the documentscollected in this volume is that they are manifestation of Nepalesepeople’s aspirations and struggles towards peace, justice and equality.Each document carries its own ‘spirit’ within it.


Dealing with the Past in Security Sector Reform

Security sector reform (SSR) and transitional justice processes often occur alongside each other in societies emerging from conflict or authoritarian rule, involve many of the same actors, are supported by some of the same partner countries and impact on each other. Yet the relationship between SSR and transitional justice, or “dealing with the past” (DwP) as it is also called, remains underexplored and is often marked by ignorance and resistance. While SSR and transitional justice processes can get into each other’s way, this paper argues that SSR and DwP are intrinsically linked and can complement each other. SSR can make for better transitional justice and vice versa. Transitional justice needs SSR to prevent a recurrence of abuses, an essential element of justice. SSR can learn from transitional justice not only that it is better to deal with rather than ignore an abusive past but also how to address an abusive legacy in the security sector. The validity of these assumptions is tested in two case studies: the police reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina after 1995 and the SSR process in Nepal after 2006.


Justice should be blind, but is the international community’s support to informal justice mechanisms in Nepal given blindly?

Support for justice provision, both formal and informal, constitutes a significant element of donor assistance in Nepal. An initial shift towards supporting informal justice mechanisms (IJMs) began during the decade-long violent conflict between the state and the Maoists that continued until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006. Donors have since renewed support for the reform and trengthening of the formal justice sector, but have continued to support IJMs. In particular, they have supported ‘new’ IJMs such as paralegal and community mediation committees. These systems today make up one layer of an increasingly complex matrix of formal and informal justice mechanisms, which include both traditional and other non-donor supported IJMs.
This paper builds on questions raised by earlier Saferworld research into IJMs, conducted between November 2009 and April 2010. This research revealed a complex and seemingly disjointed patchwork of donor-supported IJM projects, most of which were operating at a fairly small scale and without clear links either to formal or to other informal justice mechanisms. The research raised a number of challenging questions, including how and why donors first began supporting new IJMs, whether and how these new systems contribute to the strengthening of a broader system of justice in Nepal and to what extent their creation has supported ongoing peacebuilding efforts across the country.


Community-Based Approaches to Safety and Security - Lessons from Kosovo, Nepal and Bangladesh

This report identifies lessons relevant for donors and implementing agencies seeking to support community-based approaches to security. It is based on Saferworld and partners’ community security work in Kosovo, Nepal and Bangladesh in 2010–13.

The report suggests that community security programmes produce measurable improvements to communities’ own experiences of safety and security. It also identifies a range of results relevant to the provision of capable, accountable and responsive security provision and wider peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts.

The findings argue for the critical role of civil society in security and justice sector development and point to some of the measures necessary to support such groups effectively. The report reinforces the observation that successful security and justice interventions need to integrate both community-based and institutionally led reforms. Finally, it provides some practical lessons for donors and agencies seeking to support community-based approaches to safety and security through their work.


A safer future: tracking improvements in an uncertain context

This report analyses the changing attitudes towards public safety and the provision of security and justice in Nepal. It presents the fourth in a series of surveys conducted by Saferworld and Nepali partner organisation, Interdisciplinary Analysts, to track public perceptions of security and justice over time.

The latest report, ‘A safer future? Tracking security improvements in an uncertain context’, builds on the findings of the earlier surveys and analyses the results of a nationwide household survey (3,000 respondents), in-depth interviews and desk research.

The report finds that Nepali people’s perception of their day-to-day security has increased. The upward trend in confidence in the Nepal Police remarked upon in previous surveys has reached a plateau but remains high. There are still visible weaknesses in state security and justice provision and access to services remains a problem for many. Yet the Nepal Police, in particular, are thought to be more representative of women and all ethnic/caste groups than before. However, the improvement in people’s perceptions of their daily security is offset by heightened anxiety about the macro-political context. Nepali people are increasingly pessimistic about the direction in which the country is going and the lack of national stability and political consensus is undermining their confidence in political leaders to maintain law and order.   

The report makes a series of recommendations requiring the input and support of a range of actors from government, the security and justice sector, national and international non-governmental organisations (I/NGOs), the media, academia and think tanks, the wider civil society, the private sector and the international community.

Read the report


Other Documents

Snapshot of Local Security and Justice Perceptions in Selected Districts of Nepal

After more than a decade of conflict, Nepal is now on the road to consolidating democracy and forging a sustainable peace. This has provided opportunities for building state infrastructure and further strengthening security and justice provision in response to the needs of Nepal’s citizens. While ongoing and emerging political and security challenges, as well as inadequate resources, have challenged the strengthening and further improvement of effective, accountable, and accessible security and justice sector institutions, there are also examples where security and justice providers are able to reach out to citizens and collaborate with them to make local security and justice provision more people-centred and effective. Clear opportunities exist for further strengthening effective security and justice provision and, in turn, improving the real and perceived public safety, security, and justice of the Nepali people.

This report investigates the security- and justice-related experiences and perceptions of people living in nine districts in Nepal, representing geographically, ethnically, and economically diverse communities. It focuses specifically on assessing the perceptions of various stakeholders – including communities (with input from men and women for a gender perspective), local authorities, the private sector, and security and justice providers – on local public safety, security, and justice and how these have changed over the past two years, as well as key causes of insecurity. Some of the problems highlighted are specific to certain groups, while others are more generally shared.

Key findings from the research point to:

  • Women have a sense of declining security in recent years
  • Weak rule of law and impunity are the key structural cause of insecurity
  • The private sector continues to be undermined by insecurity.
Other Document

The Nepali Security Sector: An Almanac

This Almanac contains articles from senior politicians across the major political parties, academics, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers who have been engaged in public and academic debates and in policy making in the area of security sector reform. The book seeks to contribute to the security sector reform process by offering open source information, data and analysis on all related areas like the military, police, intelligence and the overall role of government. It offers perspectives not only from major political parties but also from the media, human rights and constitutional/legal areas and will thus serve as an important reference data bank for future discussions on the democratic transformation of Nepal’s security sector.

The book is a joint project of DCAF and NPC (The National Peace Campaign). In May 2009, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the UK proposed to DCAF and NPC as its local partner, to embark on a comprehensive capacity building programme on behalf of the Constituent Assembly and the Parliament of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The programme supports the peace process and facilitates a comprehensive parliamentary role in oversight issues, and stakeholder engagement with the security sector of Nepal. The programme seeks to empower parliament and civil society on security sector governance issues in a structured, locally owned process sensitive to Nepali values and customs.

The Almanac studies the structure and orientation of the security sector in Nepal. It aims at contributing towards transparency in the security sector, and greater civilian involvement in the analysis and documentation of security sector institutions and processes.

Other Document