Dr. Markus Weilenmann,
Head of the Office
Law appears in many different ways. While some legal orders are codified, others refer to oral traditions and/or ritual arrangements, some limit the writing by the application of cases, others by the codification of (distinct) contracts or they choose comprehensive forms of codification. In most nation states, however, only codified law is official state law. Codified state law, though, is in most developing countries a heirloom of the colonial past and since the days of independency in many cases only slightly revised. Unfortunately, this constellation undermines the public legitimacy of state law; and the "law in the books" deprives the illiterate and poor parts of society from access to justice.
Projects on the promotion of justice, human rights or the rule of law operate thus in a minefield, as besides the public officers also other political agents such as religious leaders or traditional chiefs might claim their own rights. They often refer to other legal orders with different sources of legitimacy, other forms of ascertainment and competing political histories. Such constellations might become especially critical in states, where those in power trouble with their own political past, their own legitimacy and the legal order based upon.
The growing juridification of development cooperation finally, manifest in a growing amount of foreign project law that is flowing into rural settings in order to steer the access to limited project goods, adds a further critical layer to the promotion of the rule of law.
The Office for Conflict Research in Developing countries focuses on the crtical interfaces between the different legal orders, scrutinizes its systemic and dynamic relations and develops experienced strategies of how to deal with emerging constellations of legal pluralism.
Sierra Leone's Law Reform Commission (LRC) required support for a restatement of Sierra Leone's customary laws. This need was articulated because all these customary laws impact upon issues relating to the application of international human rights standards such as rules regulating gender relations, economic development and matters of peace and security. The Office for Conflict Research in Developing Countries had thus to carry out a pilot survey (i), to establish a procedure for the ascertainment and/or restatement of local customary law (ii), to train the LRC's staff members on the job (iii) and to present recommendations for future actions, including legal reforms (iv).
cf. restatement of local customary law
After the conclusion of the Arusha Peace Agreement in 2000, Burundi's government was keen to set-up large justice and democracy programmes in order to comply with its obligations to promote the rule of law. Large parts of these programmes were funded by the European Union who contracted - amongst other - the international Belgian NGO RCN Justice & Democracy for its implementation. Five years later, the Office for Conflict Research in Developing Countries won the tender for a large evaluation and the programming of new project proposals for 2005-08.
In order to improve quality and accessibility of primary justice systems in Malawi, the German GTZ opted for a legal pluralistic approach and addressed primary justice providers in four districts, i.e. in Chikwawa, Zomba, Lilongwe and Rumphi. Overall goal was to improve access to justice for poor people in order to strengthen their social and economic position vis-à-vis other interest groups. The Office for Conflict Research in Developing Countries had to assess the depth of the District Implementing Agencies' understanding of the primary justice concept and to help shape and project the Malawi primary justice perspective internationally.
cf. The Primary Justice Pilot Project of Malawi