USAID’s Youth are Resilient, Interconnected, Socially cohesive and Engaged (YouthRISE) activity
1 February 2022 to 31 January 2025
Cox’s Bazar is vulnerable to conflict due to the existence of internal threats arising from socio-economic issues and criminal activities. The threat perception in the region is further heightened by a range of external threats such as arms, narcotics and human trafficking, armed robbery against ships, money laundering and transnational crime. This area is home to a large multi-ethnic and religious population. Due to the disruption of social and family networks during and after the Rohingya influx and internal security issues, the refugee situation in Cox’s Bazar has reinforced and exacerbated pre-existing gender norms, which have resulted in a rise of social control by men, and conservative behaviours especially in relation to gender issues. The prevalence of gender-based violence is high among the host communities. Factors, such as inadequate security, a sense of impunity among perpetrators, inaccessibility to or lack of justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) give rise to a vicious circle of harassment, abuse and exploitation. Women and girls bear the main burden of care and household work. There are also increased levels of child marriage and drug and human trafficking in the area.
The conflict between Rohingya and the host community is driven by the real and perceived inequitable distribution of resources. Bangladeshi host community livelihoods have been disrupted due to land loss, lack of access to water resources, and increased job competition, especially in agriculture and unskilled work, leading to decreased incomes for vulnerable host community members. This has led to negative perceptions and animosity toward Rohingya people, often reinforced by misleading news and myths. The level of support reaching Rohingya camps means that the local population, in an area with many development needs, perceive that they are being denied support themselves. Potential triggers of violence include local leader incitement, criminal gang activity and engagement with Rohingya refugees outside of camps.
Locally elected officials have limited time and face logistical constraints in addressing the tensions. The governance system in the camps leaves little opportunities for youth and women to have any meaningful participation. Village-level justice mechanisms have limited capacity, with new conflicts straining the underlying weak system of local governance.
Bangladesh has a dual legal or justice system: a formal system and an informal system. The informal justice system is popular in the community due to various reasons. Settling disputes through informal justice mechanism (mediation) can be faster than the court process and the parties are in control of the timeline. Parties have more control over the solution and are not forced to accept an outcome with which they are not happy. Disputes that are resolved through the court, are potentially a public process. When disputes are settled out of court through mediation, it is entirely confidential to both parties, unless specifically agreed otherwise. Settling family or disputes with neighbours is a difficult situation to handle but going through a court process and the stress of the courts can make it even more so, putting added pressure on the relationship between both parties. Also, settling disputes through court proceedings is generally very expensive and the overall costs can be highly unpredictable. That is why people in communities opt for the informal justice mechanism to solve their disputes. However, while the tradition of informal justice systems has a long history, there have been major changes over the years and the system is prone to corruption and can be inequitable and unprincipled, suppressing the poor and disadvantaged, especially the women in society. Host community members report that they face challenges accessing the formal justice mechanisms, and that the village court and union parishad are not available to listen to them or address their issues as they are occupied with dealing with Rohingya-related matters. This only serves to further the host communities’ frustration with the current crisis and escalate inter-communal tensions.
In this context, YouthRISE will work to increase tolerance between conflicting communities by supporting young people, women and men as well as community leaders to identify key areas of concern within their communities and assist them to share their views and enable dialogue between groups from the communities. This activity will also support livelihood initiatives in the host community of Cox’s Bazar. YouthRISE will increase leadership skills, shift gender norms because of the improved livelihood skills of the young people. The confidence of young people will be increased so they will be able to engage positively and non-violently to mitigate community conflict. Also, the activity will strengthen the local justice systems to reduce violence and solve disputes with youth participation in the process.
Objective of Project:
Young people in the host communities are more resilient to impacts of conflict, more frequently resolve local conflicts in their community in peaceful and non-violent ways and are less likely to be involved in violence at Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.
Project target Groups:
- Host community women from the six union of Teknaf (Six women group with 20 participants in each group)
- Host community youth (Both male and female) from the six union of Teknaf (Six youth group with 15 participants in each group).
- Paralegal group (Constituted with the UP-female members) from the six union of Teknaf.
Host communities affected by the Rohingya crisis in Cox’s Bazar district benefit from reduced conflict and violence (including GBV).
- Arbitrators demonstrate increased knowledge of informal conflict resolutions processes.
- Young people show higher confidence in local justice mechanisms.
Local justice systems are strengthened to reduce the use of violence, solve disputes, and foster youth engagement and trust in local justice mechanisms. The strategies include-
Activity 3.1 – Local justice systems assessment to understand capacity of local justice mechanisms and barriers in accessing justice
ASK will conduct a capacity assessment of local justice mechanisms for targeted wards/villages building from IRC’s prior assessment conducted in 2019. An understanding of the current capacity of the informal justice actors to provide equitable justice for women and children will be included in line with the Village Court Ordinance of 1976. Research work will be done via an external consultant which will enable mapping of local justice mechanism at six unions at Teknaf. After the mapping ASK will share the findings with the relevant stakeholders. Besides, IRC and ASK will explore studies and documents already done by other organisations on the topic to further refine the assessment. Based on the assessment, the programme will develop training curriculum to build the capacity of village courts and Salish in the communities to enhance equitable and fair dispute resolution.
Activity 3.2 – Strengthening skills, knowledge and coordination of informal justice providers
ASK formed groups in six unions with the young people, develop their capacities to address GBV and communicate with local law enforcement agencies, representatives, and referrals if required. Capacity building sessions, mentoring and coaching, and trainings will be organised for the participants to build their knowledge of national legal procedures, GBV and Child Protection basic principles, protection principles and standards of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as well as procedures, and in accordance with Bangladesh laws such as the Women and Children’s Act. Targeted trainings on ADR principles will be made available for the purpose of further engagement and building skills of village court members. Participants from women groups, paralegals and youths will participate in the training on operation and usage of the tracking tool.
Activity 3.3 – Mentorship to female UPs and other informal justice actors
Female UPs and other informal justice actors will be brought together during targeted mentorship sessions in order to empower their voices on village courts. ASK will conduct a training/workshop for the participants on village court processes. The women leaders will be provided with a space to collaborate, discuss, and network together and where possible network with other senior female leaders. They will be supported to identify and address particular challenges they face while in their leadership positions.
Activity 3.4 – Community outreach and dialogues on informal justice
This activity has been planned for year three and four, it will facilitate community dialogues between youth and community leaders engaged with informal justice system. This will be complemented by outreach activities to build community confidence in the judicial system through establishing two-way communication between courts and communities. These avenues will bring service providers, community leaders, and community members together to discuss typical issues that affect access to justice. Building from years one and two focused on strengthening justice systems, years three and four will focus on facilitating dialogue to enhance trust in the system.
Six union of Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.