Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2011

Local Ownership in Practice: Justice System Reform in Kosovo and Liberia

Leopold von Carlowitz

March 2011

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces


Achieving local ownership is crucial for the success of justice reform programmes as part of international rule of law assistance and security sector reform (SSR) activities. In his 2004 report on the rule of law and transitional justice, the UN Secretary-General emphasized that ‘Ultimately, no rule of law reform, justice reconstruction, or transitional justice initiative imposed from the outside can hope to be successful or sustainable.’ He claimed that the United Nations ‘must learn better how to respect and support local ownership, local leadership and a local constituency of reform, while at the same time remaining faithful to the United Nations norms and standards.’  Yet what does this mean in practice? While policy-makers, academics and practitioners generally agree with these statements in theory, local ownership proves difficult to operationalise in post-conflict assistance and governance, and remains mere rhetoric in many international reform programmes. This paper examines and compares the UN approaches to and experiences with local ownership in its efforts to reform the justice system in Kosovo and in Liberia. It thereby seeks to foster a better understanding of the concept and its implementation in practice.