Indigenous and other traditional or customary justice systems in Asia: report of 2018 Forum

The ICJ has today published a report on indigenous and other traditional or customary justice systems in Asia.

The report is based on discussions at the 2018 Geneva Forum of Judges & Lawyers which was convened in Bangkok, Thailand, in December.

The Bangkok meeting brought together judges, lawyers, and other legal experts from around the Asia-Pacific region, from both formal State justice systems and indigenous and other traditional or customary systems.

Participants reaffirmed the potential for indigenous and other traditional or customary justice mechanisms to contribute to the realization of equal and effective access to justice, particularly for indigenous, rural, poor and other marginalised populations.

Participants stressed the importance of sustained consultations and engagement directly with indigenous justice systems, to encourage their development in harmony with international human rights standards and in coordination with more official or formal national legal institutions.

Participants also highlighted the opportunities and risks associated with similar forms of constructive engagement with other, non-indigenous, traditional or customary justice systems. The relevance of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 was also highlighted.

Participants further agreed that States must at the same time ensure that formal systems are also made more accessible, both in practical and in cultural terms, to relevant communities.

The report urges that, in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, constitutional or other legal provisions should recognize the role of indigenous justice systems, within an overall framework for protection and promotion of international human rights standards.

Indigenous peoples and States should jointly consider means for improved coordination and collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous justice systems, with a view to seeing the different systems work in harmony to provide effective access to justice and protection of human rights for all people.

The report cautions however, that a similar approach may or may not be appropriate in relation to certain other traditional and customary justice systems not covered by the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The report also outlines experiences from a number of countries around the region, both in terms of existing obstacles to equal access to justice, and the possibilities for constructive engagement.

It also identifies a number of legal and policy questions of continuing controversy, including on the relationship between indigenous and other traditional or customary justice systems, and the official State justice system, and how international human rights and rule of law standards should be applied.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a key participant in the Bangkok meeting, has announced that her report to the Human Rights Council in September 2019 will focus on indigenous justice systems.

The interactive dialogue on her report will be an important opportunity for States and civil society to further exchange views on the best means of implementing the relevant provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the diversity of contexts around the world.

The Geneva Forum global and regional consultations, the Special Rapporteur’s report and associated dialogue, and the ICJ’s own research, global experience and expertise, will provide a foundation for the development by the ICJ of further legal, policy and practical guidance to be published in 2020.

The report summarizing discussions at the 2018 Forum should be read in conjunction with the separately published and periodically updated Traditional and Customary Justice Systems: Selected International Sources, which compiles relevant treaty provisions, standards, conclusions and recommendations of UN and other expert bodies, as well as the Report of the 2017 Forum.

The Geneva Forum is an annual global meeting of senior judges, lawyers, prosecutors and other legal and United Nations experts, convened by the ICJ through its Geneva-based Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, with the support of the Canton and Republic of Geneva (Switzerland) and other partners.

Each year, participants and the ICJ discuss an issue relevant to the independence and role of judges, lawyers and prosecutors, with a view to developing and disseminating practical guidance for practitioners.



Universal-Trad Custom Justice GF 2018-Publications-Thematic reports-2019-ENG (full report in PDF)

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