Legal Pluralism, Sharia Courts and Constitutional Issues in Ethiopia
AbstractState laws employ different approaches in addressing the effect of pluralistic normative ordering in a multicultural setting. A legal regime may resort to the uniform application of state laws and reject religious and customary norms, or may recognize and allow the application of the norms and practices of identity groups as long as they are in conformity with constitutional and human rights standards. Another option is to adopt a hands-off approach whereby the norms and practices of cultural and/or religious groups are permitted to operate and are not necessarily required to meet constitutional and human rights standards. Against the backdrop of the notion of legal pluralism adopted by the FDRE Constitution, this article examines whether final decisions rendered by sharia courts in Ethiopia are required to meet constitutional standards (such as the supremacy clause, gender equality and non-discrimination). Based on the analysis of the relevant provisions of the law and literature, it is argued that decisions of sharia courts (whose jurisdiction is not compulsory, but based on the consent of litigating parties) seem to be exempted from constitutional standards even where they may be in conflict with state laws. Key words: Legal pluralism, sharia courts, constitutional standards, a hand-off approach, Ethiopia.
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