(2010) JLP 60: 73-103
Improving ‘access to justice for the poor’ features high on justice sector reform agendas in post conflict sub-Saharan Africa. This results in increased attention for the role of customary structures of dispute resolution at the grassroots. At the same time, it raises the challenge to address possible areas of tension between customary justice and human rights. Based on a case study in Sierra Leone, this article explores the scope, reach and limits of interventions that aim at promoting human rights within customary justice. The paper shows that the latter is multi-layered, including different actors and approaches for the maintenance of local order, with some forums adjudicating according to customary rules and others favoring mediation and the achievement of a negotiated solution. It argues that most interventions tend to focus on official customary justice providers and the identification of customary rules, while ignoring or at best indirectly targeting non-official actors and practices. It concludes that more attention is needed to plurality in customary justice, both in terms of the multiplicity of actors that play a role at grassroots level, the different approaches they follow for the resolution of conflicts, and the particular challenges and opportunities they present for the promotion of human rights locally.