Justice and security Stability and development

Catalyzing the socio-legal space for armed conflict: land and legal pluralism in pre-war Liberia.

McGill University
  • Acutely antagonistic social relations involving land rights can be an important catalyst for armed conflict within countries of the developing world. When component parts of pluralistic socio-legal arrangements come to exist in opposition to one another, the result is a problematic buildup of confrontation, injustice, grievance, antipathy, and enmity. With no legitimate institutional way to deactivate the resulting tensions, they can become widespread and then volatile. This paper makes the argument that the way legal pluralism in land tenure is handled can be a significant contributor, if not a primary catalyst for armed conflict, and uses the case of Liberia to examine this. By analyzing the interaction of statutory, customary, ‘state sponsored customary,’ and ad hoc norms regarding land rights, the article describes how the very problematic socio-legal space with regard to land tenure was created in Liberia, and how interaction within this space was a primary catalyst for the war.
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