People cannot take for granted that centrally governed state institutions such as the police and courts can or will provide adequate justice and security, or that the state is the only vehicle to deliver governance and development. In ‘most of the world’ (Chatterjee 2004), local actors such as customary leaders and vigilante groups are the primary providers of justice and security. In Africa they are estimated to deal with 80 to 90 per cent of disputes, and in Asia it is said that they deal with 70 per cent. Therefore, international development agencies have since the early to mid-2000s started to include what are referred to as ‘non-state providers’, ‘customary institutions’ and ‘informal justice systems’ in their programmes to improve access to justice for the poor and marginalized (DANIDA 2010; DFID 2004; OECD 2007b; OHCHR 2006; UNDP/Wojkowska 2006; USAID 2009; World Bank 2008). This shift in focus covers programmes in conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan, in fragile and peace-building contexts such as Nepal, and in stable young democracies such as Ghana. At the same time, most international resources are still, as in the past, invested in the establishment or reform of formal state institutions based on a state-centric Euro-American model of law and bureaucracy (Boege et al. 2008; Eriksen 2011). This limits the ability of donors to engage with a diversity of organizations and with the many alternative, yet often locally legitimate, notions and practices of justice that are not easily accepted if rule of law and human rights principles are strictly applied.
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