Pluralising the Rule of Law

Armed opposition groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia often establish their own ‘courts’ in territory they control. Can such rebel courts be seen as embodiments of the rule of law, or does the rule or law’s association with state sovereignty preclude this? Drawing on fieldwork on the judicial practice of armed opposition groups, I argue that the exclusive link between the state and the rule of law is both recent and unjustified. Norms of International law already infer that entities other than states can administer justice in a manner that represents the rule of law, including armed rebels, and there is no requirement that the interests represented in the rule of law replicate those of states. The concept of the rule of law, whether ‘thick’ or ‘thin’, is not monolithic but plural; the elements that make up the rebel rule of law will thus necessarily amount to a distinctive reflection of the particular context in which armed rebels operate.