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Enhancing Legal Empowerment through Engagement with Customary Justice Systems: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Legal Empowerment Approaches to Customary Law Reform in Somaliland and Puntland

By: Maria Vargas Simojoki, International Development Law Organization

This research report examines the short and medium term impact of attempts by traditional elders in Somaliland and Puntland to revise elements of Somali customary law (xeer) with the aim of bringing it into greater alignment with both shari’a (Islamic) law and international human rights standards. Supported by the Danish Refugee Council, the elders initiated a process of dialogue culminating in the making of regional and national declarations in the two de facto autonomous regions, containing revisions to xeer in a number of key areas.

Six years after the first dialogues commenced, the research on which this chapter is based indicates that the declarations can be linked to certain positive changes in non-state justice, including the abolition of harmful practices such as widow inheritance, improvements in women’s inheritance rights and a shift towards individual rather than collective responsibility for serious crimes. Other objectives, however, particularly in relation to enhancing access to justice for vulnerable groups such as displaced populations, minorities and victims of gender crimes, do not seem to have met with the same level of success.

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Uploaded on: Feb 25, 2013
Last Updated: Dec 04, 2015
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