International Centre for Violence Research
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Research Line 4: Violence in the Twilight Zone: informal non-state policing in the Global South. Community members perceptions of informal non-state policing

Informal non-state policing can be found in many countries of the Global South, be it in form of informal vigilante groups, criminal gangs or mobs. What characterizes informal non-state policing is that members of the community take ?the law into their own hands? and act in lieu of the state. Hence, the members of the community operate in what has been referred to as a ?twilight zone?: a zone in which law enforcement is guaranteed not primarily by the state but by informal, non-state groups. When community members take the law into their own hands, legal provisions and the rule of law have lost their meaning. In many ? if not most ? instances, community members resort to means of criminal justice, which violate the laws of the country whose order they purport to maintain. Put bluntly, groups carrying out informal non-state policing fight crime with criminal means. Against the background of this paradoxical situation the studies in this research line investigated informal non-state groups with a view not only to their legitimacy but also their relationship to the state. The studies thus carved out different factors that contribute to the groups? legitimacy and determine their relationship to the state. Research was conducted in Egypt, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Peru.

Research Line Leader: C. Wrons-Passmann


Case Studies

The Construction of legitimacy for the Ronda Urbana of Huamachuco

The paper explores which factors contribute to the legitimization of the Ronda Urbana of Huamachuco, a vigilante institution in a district in the highlands of La Libertad region in the North of Peru. Using qualitative methods, it is shown how the Ronda Urbana emerged and developed into a local security actor. The author studies the legitimization strategies and the factors that have created a certain level of acceptance of this institution, in a context where the state is discredited and weak. The aim of this study is to contribute to a better understanding of vigilante organizations and their legitimacy, not as an alternative or parallel institution but more as a complementary actor within complex local system of public security.

Junior Researcher: S. V. Castillo


Non-State Policing in Karu, North-Central Nigeria: Understanding the Basis for the Legitimacy of Vigilante Groups

The project analyzes community members' perceptions of two vigilante groups in the Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State in North-Central Nigeria. The main aim is to contribute to our understanding the foundations of vigilante groups' legitimacy, as well as the specific factors that influence this legitimacy. Primary data was generated from in-depth interviews with community members, while the hybrid governance perspective provides the basis for discussion. The study finds that, despite criticisms of some aspects of vigilante activities, most community members supported policing by vigilante groups and for two reasons. First, there's a feeling among community members that crime and insecurity are on the increase, and second, vigilantes were easily accessible and responded to distress calls rapidly. Apart from these two reasons, people also expressed the view that the state police was either ineffective in preventing crime or completely absent in the communities.

Junior Researcher: P. Suchi


The truce and everyday life in a violence-free municipality: The case of Santa Tecla in El Salvador

Youth gangs are the main source of violence in El Salvador. After repressive measures to defeat the gangs failed, the government decided in 2012 to support a process called the "truce." Under its terms, El Salvador's two most important gangs pledged to reduce violence in exchange for an end to state repression against gang members and the establishment of reintegration programs. On the local level, the process led to the creation of violence-free municipalities - areas in which local authorities promote and support the truce through reintegration and violence prevention measures. Lately, in violence-free municipalities the gangs have boosted their role as agents of control through the "administration" of the crime rate. This study investigates the impact of the truce at the local level and in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the municipality of Santa Tecla, and in particular the communities of San Rafael and San José El Pino. It looks into the community members' perceptions of the truce, the actual impact of the truce at the local level, as well as the role that gangs now play in these municipalities.

Junior Researcher: W. Carballo


State-Society Dynamics in Egypt: The Twists and Turns of a Power Struggle

Going beyond the traditional state-society dichotomy, this case study examines how state-society relations in Egypt have evolved since the uprising of January 2011. Drawing on the example of a neighborhood self-help organization, it illustrates how, in the wake of the uprising, new avenues for negotiating power have opened up at the local level. Oscillating between challenging state domination and taking a pragmatic stance to preserve resources and bargaining power, self-help organizations are engaged in a changing relationship with the state in which the two entities are interwoven.

Junior Researcher: S. Farouk