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Call for Papers: 2008 Customary Law Conference

The sponsoring organization of African Customary Law Revisited: The Role of Customary Law in the 21st Century invites submissions and participant nominations for a collaborative exchange and discussion at a two-day conference to take place on October 23-24, 2008 in Botswana. The conference working language will be English. The conference will include paper presentations on topics detailed below and will also include working group discussions with a broad range of stakeholders, including, for example, traditional leaders, members of the judiciary, representatives of non-governmental organizations and other interested persons, on topics related to customary law.

Customary law, the traditional law indigenous to a region, continues to regulate many areas of people’s lives in Africa. For example, some African constitutions now enshrine the right to culture and oblige courts to apply customary law where applicable. Elsewhere, constitutional and statutory law have superseded most or all customary law. Yet, even in situations where constitutional law, statutory law and common law have largely superseded it, customary law may nevertheless govern in certain areas, such as family relations. For example, in many places, the requirements for marriage, the rights and duties of husbands and wives, the obligations toward and custody of children, the ownership of property acquired during marriage, and many other aspects of family life are governed by customary law. Moreover, even where conflicting constitutional or statutory law exists, lack of access to legal resources may mean that, as a practical matter, customary law still governs. Finally, the persistence of longstanding expectations and social practices informed by customary law has given rise to many problems in enforcing contradictory statutory law.

Notwithstanding the significant role customary law continues to play in people’s lives, there has been a notable lack of research and formal scholarly exchange on the topic. As detailed further below, the African Customary Law Revisited conference will attempt to fill this gap by exploring the nature, substance and role of customary law in Africa in the 21st Century.

Transportation to the conference venue, lodging, meals and transportation at the venue will be subject to arrangement between the sponsoring organizations and the event participants.


Twenty papers will be selected for presentation at the conference by a Steering Committee comprised of members from the sponsoring organization. All proposals should include a project description and the applicant’s curriculum vitae. All proposals should be in English with project descriptions not to exceed 1000 words. As publication of selected papers in contemplated, submissions should describe work that has not been previously published.

Possible topics for consideration:

•What is customary law in the 21st Century
oHow is customary law ascertained? What are the sources of customary law? How is it generated? How does it change?
oThe history of customary law; customary law and colonialism

•“Procedural” aspects of customary law / Venues to enforce customary law
oTraditional courts and other venues for decision
oThe relationship between traditional courts or decision-makers and the formal court system
oEvidentiary standards and methods of proving customary law
oCodification of customary law

•Substantive areas of customary law
For example:
oLand tenure
oFamily law
oEnvironmental law
oIntellectual Property
oCriminal law

•Gender and customary law

•Customary law and international law

SUBMISSION DEADLINE MARCH 25, 2008. Proposals should be submitted by e-mail to leitnercenter@law.fordham.edu. Participants will be notified in April 2008 that their papers have been accepted for presentation at the conference. The papers will be published together in a book after the conference and will be posted on this website. Publication is contingent on producing a final paper of publishable quality.

The sponsoring organizations invite nominations of traditional leaders, members of the judiciary or other persons or organizations who may be interested in attending the conference to participate in the working group discussions and discussion of papers. Persons may self-nominate or nominate others with expertise in matters related to customary law.

Nominations should include:
•The title and address of person or organization nominated.

•An explanation of the reasons for the nomination (500-word limit) including:
oWhat is the person or organization’s role with respect to customary law? What is the basis for the person or organization’s expertise in this area?
oWhy, specifically, do you believe this person or organization should be included in the conference?
oWhat areas or issues related to customary law would the person or organization be most interested in discussing?

•Submitter information: Your name, mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.

NOMINATION DEADLINE MARCH 25, 2008. Proposals should be submitted by e-mail to leitnercenter@law.fordham.edu Nominated persons and organizations who are accepted to participate in the conference will be notified in April 2008.

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