Promoting the Rule of Law in Timor-Leste

The international community is eagerly promoting the concept of the rule of law in post-conflict states such as Timor-Leste in the belief that it will lead to political and social stability. To attract international legitimacy, Timorese leaders are also keen to be seen to be invoking the rule of law although the manner in which they understand and use the concept often diverges from dominant Western understandings. The concept of the rule of law assumes that the state enjoys a monopoly of law. This article examines the resonance of the rule of law at the local level in Timor-Leste in light of the fact that customary law is the type of law with which people are likely to have first and frequent contact as the state has little reach beyond the capital. It concludes by recommending that all actors promoting the rule of law in post-conflict states need to equip themselves with a strong understanding of how the population engages with legal norms in order to effectively promote the rule of law.

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