Govt to integrate ethnic customs into justice system

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
December 4, 2012

Dr. Chaleun Yiapaoher (right) and Mr. Minh Pham address the ceremony.

Dr. Chaleun Yiapaoher (right) and Mr. Minh Pham address the ceremony.The government has said it will work towards integrating the customary practices of the 49 official ethnic groups of Laos into the formal justice system, to make the country’s laws more coherent.

A statement to this effect was made yesterday in Vientiane following the presentation of the Report on Customary Law Survey and Practice in Laos.

The report, which was initiated by the Ministry of Justice in 2008, was completed recently with support from the UNDP.

The findings of the report, which covers all officially-recognised ethnic groups known to reside in the country, demonstrate that customary law continues to play a significant role in the legal structure of Laos, as each ethnic group continues to use its own customs and practices to resolve local conflicts. This reliance on traditional rulings was found to be particularly prevalent among communities living in remote areas.

Minister of Justice Dr Chaleun Yiapaoher described these ethnic customs as “informal law”. He stated that the Party and government recognised the importance of each ethnic group’s customs and respected the fact that they had been practised and relied upon for generations.

“We will be using the data and information from the report when drafting and revising laws,” he said.

“In addition, the report will be used as a point of reference for promoting equality and access to justice for all in compliance with the international human rights standards which Laos has ratified.”

The customary law report is the first of its kind to focus on customary justice practice among all of the official ethnic groups, and is being viewed as an important step forward in efforts to incorporate such practices into the overall legal system. This is a key requirement for Laos as it seeks to become a state governed by the rule of law by 2020.

“We need to enhance the sound customs and traditions of multiethnic people,” Dr Chaleun said.

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Laos, Mr Minh Pham, said he recognised that customary practices would continue to play an important role in people’s lives in Laos, as these traditional means of problem solving had proven to stand the test of time.

He also stated, however, that in line with the constant development and modernisation of Laos over the decades, customary law would also have to undergo development in some areas.

“There is a need to develop a national customary law strategy so that we can approach the informal justice system in a more systematic way, and strike a good balance in the use of informal and formal justice systems,” Mr Minh said.

UNDP say they expect that by merging the informal and formal justice systems the coherency and consistency of Lao law overall would be greatly improved.

The findings of the report will now be used to support the development of a national strategy on customary law, the drafting of guidelines on how best to combine informal law with state law, and the development of a database covering customary law and practice across the country.

Dr Chaleun expressed his heartfelt thanks to the UNDP and other partners who supported the project.

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