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Rule of Law(s): Legal pluralism in Timor-Leste



This Thursday I will be presenting a paper at the 12th ASLI Conference ‘Law 2.0: New Challenges in Asia’. The conference will take place at the College of Law, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. My presentation is entitled ‘Rule of Law(s): Legal pluralism in Timor-Leste’. Download the full programme here.

Here is the abstract:

As in other post-conflict states, the international community has been actively promoting the implementation of the rule of law in Timor-Leste. In 2006 a report by the World Bank stated that the justice system remains the weakest branch of Timor-Leste’s governance architecture. The effectiveness of the justice system is hampered by the fact that laws and proceedings are not translated into languages understood by all court actors. Timor-Leste has a long history of multilingualism, with at least sixteen language varieties being spoken in the country. Both Tetum and Portuguese are official languages, with Portuguese being predominantly used in courts, even though less than 10% of the population is fluent in the language. Due to the substantial obstacles faced by the majority of the population in accessing the formal justice system, the bulk of disputes are resolved through traditional means of dispute settlement. The post-colonial legacy was one of two separate legal systems – the formal legal system and the traditional system – operating in parallel. More than a decade after independence, the former continues to have only a peripheral presence in the lives of most East Timorese.

Creating a new nation is a tremendously difficult and slow process. The World Development Report 2011 found that on average post-conflict countries take between 15 and 30 years – an entire generation – to transition out of fragility and to build resilience. In Timor-Leste’s case this process is further complicated by the language policy. The purpose of this research paper is to examine the importance of legal pluralism in Timor-Leste and discuss possible avenues for the implementation and strengthening of the rule of law in the country. We will depart from a comparison with other jurisdictions where legal pluralism plays a decisive role but will also take due account of the unique specificities of Timor-Leste.


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