Justice and security

Policy Brief: Adapting Somali Customary Justice Practices and Procedures

Horn of Africa
Sababi Institute

Customary justice (xeer) is an essential pathway to dispute resolution and justice across Somalia and Somaliland, especially in rural areas. Clan elders draw on precedent, Sharia, and bilateral agreements between clans to adjudicate criminal cases, civil matters, and family disputes alike. However, xeer has faced substantial criticism for the ways in which it deviates from international human rights standards. For instance, xeer relies on collective responsibility for criminal acts, and places stark procedural limits on women’s participation in hearings. In this policy brief, we summarize research conducted with 408 clan elders to assess their attitudes and openness to reforming xeer in ways that would make it fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive. The results show significant potential for working with elders to adapt xeer, providing a pathway to stronger, fairer justice outcomes while maintaining a system that has many benefits, including its low cost, speed, reach, and broad legitimacy.

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