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Status: Published

Legal pluralism and human rights (2009)



Legal PluralismThis report highlights human rights impacts and dilemmas associated with plural state and non-state laws, such as family laws based on religion, customary justice practices and Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms. Drawing on examples of such plural legal orders from around the world, it proposes principles and a framework to guide human rights practitioners and policy-makers.

The report also identifies challenges related to incorporation of non-state law in state law, recognition of cultural differences in law, and justice sector reform. Emphasising the contested nature of culture, especially when dealing with gender equality, religious freedom and indigenous peoples’ rights, it calls for evidence-based assessments of plural legal orders that give special attention to people on the margins of state and non-state law, and equality between and within communities.

The key findings and policy recommendations outlined in the full report are been compiled in the form of a research briefing.

Research team



“An excellent statement … [the] treatment is objective and balanced, and it definitely challenges the human rights community not only to take stock, but also to take action.” Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights

“Excellent … most interesting and instructive” Abdullahi A. An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, School of Law, Emory University

“Comprehensive, very substantive and well written … the study closes an important gap in literature [and] also provides useful ideas and inspiration for development practitioners working in the field of legal reform.” Juliane Osterhaus, Project Director “Realising Human Rights in Development Cooperation” Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH

“This report presents a compelling case that human rights practitioners cannot afford to ignore plural legal orders as a site of intervention.” Imrana Jalal, Human Rights Adviser, Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT)