Client name: UK Department for International Development (DFID)

Duration: 2010

Location: Helmand, Afghanistan

The goal of the DFID-commissioned Informal Justice Mapping in Helmand study was to inform the policy and programming of the UK’s justice support work, with the aim of improving the provision of fair and timely justice to the province’s population. 


In 2010, Coffey undertook a study to better understand the non-formal provision of justice in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, including the strengths and weaknesses of the various dispute resolution mechanisms and how these mechanisms link to the formal justice sector.

By having a greater understanding of how Afghans access justice, international donors would be able to tailor support programs to meet people’s needs. The study would also enable the Afghan Government to provide better services, helping it garner popular support.


This study consisted of two major parts, interviews and a program review.

Interviews - First, direct face-to-face interviews were conducted with citizens of Helmand province. Interviewees were asked about the steps they take to resolve disputes and about their perceptions of the fairness of community-based, government-provided and Taliban-administered justice mechanisms.

Program review – Second, a review looked at the justice element of a government-led UK-supported program that aimed to improve the delivery of basic services.

Broad response base – Care was taken to obtain responses from men and women of various ages, social backgrounds and occupations in both government and Taliban controlled areas to limit bias against any one group.

Safe research methods – Due to safety concerns, Coffey  worked with an Afghan organisation to identify researchers who would be able to work and travel safely in dangerous areas. Once male researchers were chosen, the men identified local women who could work as researchers, which was necessary so that women could be interviewed. Ultimately, more than 50% of respondents were female.


The study helped address many key questions regarding the implementation of justice in Helmand.

It was found that citizens lacked confidence in government-provided and community-based systems to provide justice. This led to a reliance on a Taliban-based justice system. It was suggested that mitigating the weaknesses of these systems (corruption and inefficiency) would reduce public support for Taliban-based systems.

The study also looked at the question of what can be done to make justice mechanisms more fair to women. Afghan women are often used to resolve disputes and pay off debts. In a practice known as bad, for instance, daughters are given away in marriage to settle debts. While widely deplored by women, bad is still common where Pashtunwali principles guide community-based dispute resolution.

The study noted that to discourage practices such as bad, it would be wise to make communities, including the elders and mullahs administering community-based justice, appreciate that using women and girls to settle disputes is against Islam and that alternatives to using women in reconciliation processes exist and are used elsewhere in Afghanistan.