Dr. Janine Ubink

  • Senior Lecturer
  • African law
  • Legal anthropology
  • Land law
  • Customary law
  • Rule of law

Janine Ubink is a senior lecturer at the Van Vollenhoven Institute, and from the fall of 2013 also a faculty member at the University of California Irvine’s Law School – where she is based. She has studied international law at Leiden University and started working with the institute in 2001. Janine’s research centers around African law, with a primary focus on customary law; traditional courts and leaders; land tenure; legal anthropology; and legal empowerment. Her regional focus is on Africa, but she has also been involved in comparative research in Asia and Latin America. Large research projects she has been involved in include:

- PhD-research, which culminated in a dissertation entitled ‘In the Land of the Chiefs: Customary law, land conflicts, and the role of the state in peri-urban Ghana’ (2008). This study contributes to debates on the relationship between tenure security and different systems of land tenure, on the continued relevance of traditional leadership and popular perceptions of the legitimacy of this institution, and on the negotiability of customary law.

- A 3-year project entitled ‘The Mystery of Legal Failure? A critical, comparative examination of the potential of legalization of land assets in developing countries for achieving real legal certainty’. This project compared the design, implementation and outcomes of legalization programs in eight countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It specifically focused on the tenure security of smallholders. In 2009, this led to the publication ‘Legalising Land Rights: Local practices, state responses and tenure security in Africa, Asia and Latin America’.

- A research cooperation with IDLO (International Law and Development Organization, Rome) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, entitled ‘The Role of Customary Justice Systems in the Legal Empowerment of the Poor’, which focused on the possibilities for legal empowerment of marginalized groups through an engagement with customary law. This project has resulted in several publications (see under the tab "published work" at the top of this page).

In the fall of 2011, Janine was awarded a prestigious NWO-VENI research grant for innovative research talent. This research on ‘customary legal reform' continues and expands on Janine’s earlier research. Since the start of her PhD-project she has been interested in building a theory of customary change and its effects on marginalized community members. Her PhD-research focused on the effects of the commodification of land on customary tenure in Ghana. Later research studied the impact of projects to legalize customary property rights, in eight countries in Africa, Asia and Latin-America. The joint project with IDLO analyzed the functioning of customary justice systems and the possible role of such systems in legal empowerment programs. The study that will be undertaken with the VENI research grant will again focus on the legal empowerment of marginalized groups in a context of strong customary justice systems. It includes fieldwork in Malawi, with a focus on the functioning of traditional tribunals, and the impact of a large donor-funded project to enhance their functioning.

Last Modified: 20-08-2013