Beyond Rights: Legal Process and Ethnic Conflicts

74 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2005

See all articles by Elena A. Baylis

Elena A. Baylis

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law


Unresolved ethnic conflicts threaten the stability and the very existence of multi-ethnic states. Ethnically divided states have struggled to build safeguards against such disputes into their political and legal systems by establishing federal political structures, designing elections to encourage participation, and entering complex power-sharing arrangements, but such measures cannot be expected to prevent all conflict. Human rights and minority rights guarantees likewise have proven unable to accommodate all relevant groups and interests. Accordingly, multi-ethnic states facing persistent ethnic conflicts need to develop effective dispute resolution systems for resolving those conflicts as they arise. This presents an important question: what kinds of processes and institutions might enable ethnic groups to resolve their conflicts with each other and the state? This Article explores that question, reviewing the interdisciplinary literature on ethnic conflicts, the legal literature on legal process and conflict resolution, and a case study of ethnic conflicts and conflict resolution in Ethiopia. At crucial moments in the development of an ethnic conflict, legal processes such as mediation, arbitration or constitutional interpretation might play a role in resolving the dispute. But ethnic conflict resolution institutions and processes must be carefully designed to take account of the variety, complexity and dynamics of ethnic conflicts, and to address the substantial number of ethnic groups and interests that diverge from the humna rights and minority rights models. Ultimately, the Ethiopian example calls on us to consider whether and how legal processes might be able to ameliorate the threat posed by ethnic conflict.

Keywords: ethnic conflict, legal process, ethnic, minority, indigenous, human rights, minority rights, constitution, constitutional interpretation, mediation, arbitration, conflict resolution, ethiopia

JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K3, K33, K4, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Baylis, Elena A., Beyond Rights: Legal Process and Ethnic Conflicts. Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 25, p. 529, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Elena A. Baylis (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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