Beyond Rights: Legal Process and Ethnic Conflicts


Unresolved ethnic conflicts threaten the stability and the very existence of multi-ethnic states. The realities of ethnic conflict are daunting: ethnic disputes tend to be both persistent and complex, and efforts to use democracy or ethnic-blind policies to deal with those conflicts tend to fail. While multi-ethnic states have struggled to devise political solutions for ethnic conflict, they have largely ignored the role that legal processes might play in resolving ethnic discord. But at certain crucial moments in the development of ethnic conflicts, legal processes such as mediation, adjudication, and constitutional interpretation might effectively address these disputes.

This article explores that possibility, reviewing the interdisciplinary literature on the nature of ethnic conflicts, the legal literature on legal processes and conflict resolution, and the example of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is sharply divided by ethnicity, with more than eighty ethnic groups. It has attempted to design legal processes that can respond to its ethnic groups and their conflicts, creating a unique ethnic conflict resolution system. The Ethiopian system does not offer a blueprint for ethnic conflict resolution. It does, however, call upon us to consider whether and how legal processes might be able to ameliorate the threat of ethnic conflict.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Constitutional Law | Courts | Dispute Resolution and Arbitration | Human Rights Law | International Law | Jurisprudence | Law and Society

Date of this Version

March 2004