Access to justice and legal tools key for rural communities across the world

Thursday, 3rd November 2016

Conflicts as a result of land disputes are all too common in many parts of the world.  Whatever the source, there is no doubt that what makes the situation worse is the tangible distance between people and the justice system. More often than not, existing legal frameworks and laws are either unknown or underutilised by the people they are meant to help most. So why does this gap exist? Often rooted in a lack of knowledge and trust in the institutions, increasingly complex bureaucracy and procedures, and even legal loopholes. But change is happening, and a movement of increasing people's legal understanding, underway. 

Three case studies recently published in ILC’s Database of Good Practices show how the need for better legal understanding and access to justice is fundamental to raising the awareness of rural communities on their rights and responsibilities, and making the shift from the unknown – to known. We take the examples of Burundi, India and Nicaragua, where three projects shared a common approach to using existing legal tools and services to facilitate conflict resolution within communities, providing people with specific legal knowledge and secure their land rights.

In Burundi - a country recently traumatised by war – there was very little trust in the justice system. The Transitional Programme of Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PTRPC) was implemented by the Government  with financial support from IFAD between 2004 and 2013. The programme managed to rebuild this trust by using a number of different traditional interventions, including the set-up of mobile legal clinics, training of paralegals, and introducing friendly competitions. These competitions took place during public gatherings where trained facilitators asked the audience questions on legal issues that any community member attending could answer; people who responded correctly were given prizes, which varied according to the difficulty of the question, from hoes and soaps to radios and goats.  Between 2007 and 2012 almost 400 competitions took place in public places including market areas in the provinces of Bujumbura Rural, Bururi and Ruyigi. This playful and remunerative tool has encouraged people to develop curiosity and interest in legal matters, while  at the same time internalising legal concepts, and making the legal system more familiar and accessible to community members. 

For more information on the Good Practice in Burundi, click here


In Nicaragua, the Agrarian Reform of the 1980s left some 50,000 beneficiaries with a lack of secure tenure, leading to conflicts across rural communities. ILC member, Nitlapan developed the Rural Legal Services Program to create a network of lawyers specialised in the regularisation of rural estates, and in legal technical assistance training. 25 legal counselling offices were set up in municipalities across the country where access to justice was limited or unavailable. From 1994 to 2010, the program assisted rural farmers in formalising their land titles received  during the time of Agrarian Reform, facilitating the legalisation of 3,353 rural properties –  46% to women, 53% to men and 1% to joint titles.  The program also trained 40 community leaders in alternative conflicts resolution methods which had resulted due to the massive upheaval of the Reform.

For more information on the Good Practice in Nicaragua, click here

                                  Servicios Legales Rurales en Nicaragua - NITLAPAN

In India, the Society for Development of Drought Prone Area (SDDPA) has been working since 2005 to engage and organise 30,000 poor families across 150 villages in Telangana State to teach them dryland farming techniques and assist them with land claims. As part of the efforts to support landless farmers turning idle land into fertile land and obtaining titles, legal trainings in land reform and land rights were provide to educate staff from SDDPA and farmers from 100 villages to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities. Prior to SDDPA's intervention, conflicts were arising where legal loopholes allowed landlords to evict many of the poorest tenants, giving land ownership to the intermediaries instead of the landless who were assigned to cultivate the land. Specialist training was provided in negotiation, mediation and engagement of government officials and power brokers to facilitate an amicable resolution of conflicts in favour of landless.

For more information on the Good Practice in India, click here


While land rights face different and multiple challenges depending on the regional context, these three case studies example how  access to legal knowledge, services and tools is key for rural communities to fight against injustice and solve conflicts. 

Through the Database of Good Practices, ILC members share with the world their experiences and learn from each other. The Database is organised around the 10 commitments for people-centred land governance, providing concrete examples and guidance on how to achieve each of them. Learn, share and be inspired by ILC's Good Practices