Virginia Cavedoni

Intern, Policy Advice and Planning Section (PAPS), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, USA

In efforts by the international community to ‘develop’ and ‘democratize’ countries in the global South, through the transfer of Western Liberal institutions, for example democratic and legal institutions, local knowledge has often been overlooked. Both in the implementation and transitional phases. One interesting issue I have encountered during my studies in Governance and Development, is the lack of consideration given to local and traditional knowledge in the context of law. The transfer of legal institutions has been common practice since the 1960s, with scholars and policy makers taking an interest in poorer nations and looking at development as a process of evolution from tradition to modernity, overlooking the cultural importance of customary law and the role it plays in society.

In 2016, the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) worked to support Somali traditional dispute resolution in a country where only 30% of citizens turn to the formal justice system to resolve disputes. They did this by training local elders on human rights and national law, therefore incorporating the transplanted western concept of law into the traditional local systems of dispute resolution. To me, these forms of knowledge-sharing and mechanisms of knowledge integration both bottom-up and top-down are crucial to the sustainability of development of legal systems. Recognizing the importance of, and respecting, these systems of customary law in varying contexts is essential.