SUMMARY: Accessing Justice: Somalia’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers

In “Accessing Justice: Somalia’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers,” the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) analyzes data collected at the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centers in Somalia to determine how these centers operate, what they are doing to help the Somali people, and in what ways the centers can improve to provide better and more equitable access to justice.

The ADR Centers were built after two decades of civil war as the Somali Federal Government replaced a transitional government. As part of the rebuilding process, access to justice was identified as a high-priority need, given the expense of formal proceedings and marginalization of vulnerable communities, such as women and children. Accessing justice through the formal judicial system is often cost-prohibitive, given that citizens must pay fees throughout the legal proceedings. Unlike the formal justice system, however, the ADR Centers are free for community members, which was viewed by many as a significant contribution to increasing access to justice. In addition, the capacity to properly enforce decisions by the courts is weak, and the needs of women and children are often overlooked by such decisions. The ADR Centers help address these issues by involving community members such as elders in enforcement and providing marginalized communities with greater access to justice.

Panels of three to five adjudicators oversee cases in the ADR Centers. Adjudicators are respected members of the community. While there are efforts to diversify the panels, most adjudicators are male. However, women were more often included on panels when women and children were involved in the case. Most cases adjudicated at the ADR Centers are civil matters; severe crimes, such as serious bodily injury and murder, must go through the formal justice system. Referral of cases to the formal justice system is not uniform, partially because formal justice systems vary in Somalia, but also because many communities lack trust in the formal justice systems.

To enforce outcomes of cases, adjudicators actively follow up on cases over which they presided. Community members, elders, and police help enforce decisions if it comes to an adjudicator’s attention that a decision is not being followed. Either Somali customary law, known as Xeer, or Sharia law can be applied during the adjudication process, depending on the preference of the parties. The adjudicators worked with the parties to obtain an outcome agreeable to all parties involved. Compensation was the most common result of a case, but compromises or expressions of forgiveness were also common. Despite successes, outcomes do not always favor women and children and perpetuate underlying discrimination. For example, a case review revealed that wives subjected to domestic violence were encouraged to reconcile with abusive spouses and that in some land cases, outcomes were unfavorable towards women with no clearly justified legal reasoning supporting the decision.

While the ADR Centers provide critical resources to rural Somalian communities, several improvements can be made. The authors assert that increased representation of all constituencies in ADR Centers is needed to ensure a fair process and adherence to religious and cultural norms. Increasing the number of ADR Centers will also help to reach a greater number and wider geographic swath of the population. Increasing community awareness and understanding of the purpose and operation of ADR Centers will help to expand access to justice. Additionally, the ADR Centers can ensure long-term sustainability by creating more community involvement and sense of ownership in dispute resolution.

More guidance is needed for adjudicators to ensure that jurisdiction, outcomes, and resources are evenly applied. Conducting programs of continuing professional development for ADR actors can help ensure this is achieved. Encouraging collaboration and information sharing among ADR Centers can also help each center to provide equitable resources. Providing mechanisms of oversight and monitoring of ADR Center operations and establishing a standardized data collection system across ADR Centers can also produce better results.

Strengthening procedural safeguards for gender-based violence against women, victims, survivors, and other vulnerable individuals is key for providing equitable outcomes for all populations. Strengthening referral pathways with formal justice authorities and establishing regular coordination mechanisms can also enhance protection for vulnerable groups. Where there are gaps in the ADR Centers, strengthening formal justice institutions by building community relations to provide legitimacy can promote equitable access to justice in Somalia.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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