Universiteit Leiden

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Janine Ubink

Professor of Law, Governance and Development

Prof.dr. J.M. Ubink
+31 71 527 7493

Janine Ubink is professor of law, governance and development at the Van Vollenhoven Institute for law, governance and society, of Leiden University. She is also director of research at Leiden Law School.

More information about Janine Ubink

Her research centers around African law and governance, with a primary focus on customary law and its relation to state law, traditional authorities, land law and policy, gender, transitional justice and rule of law reforms and legal empowerment. Her regional focus is on Africa, particularly Ghana, Namibia, Malawi, Somalia, and South Africa, but she has also been involved in comparative research in Asia and Latin America. She is the President of the international Commission on Legal Pluralism, and also works as a consultant in this field, most recently as an advisor to the Ministry of Justice of Somalia. Ubink has taught at the law schools of University of California Irvine, New York University and Australia National University as well as at the FHR Lim A Po Institute for Social Studies (Paramaribo, Suriname). She studied law at Leiden University (1995-2000) and acquired her PhD in legal anthropology from Leiden University with her thesis “In the land of the chiefs: Customary law, land conflicts, and the role of the state in peri-urban Ghana” (2008).

Current Research

Ubink’s research examines the interaction of state law and government with customary law and traditional leadership. The research questions how state law and institutions can best respond to customary institutions, seeking to inform academics as well as policy makers, civil society organizations and justice reformers in these countries.

In addition, she investigates how customary justice systems respond and adapt to large-scale changes in an increasingly globalized world. Colonialism, land commodification, changes in gender roles, conflict and post-conflict situations, and the activities of large foreign companies for instance in the mining sector, are all examples of large societal and economic transitions that impact on customary justice systems and their relation with state legal systems. She studies these processes through a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, comparatively across the African continent, particularly in Ghana, Namibia, Malawi, Somalia and South Africa.

She is currently involved in a long-term research collaboration with the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC) of the University of Cape Town, South Africa in consortium with other South African research and advocacy groups, to study traditional governance and customary land management and advise on and challenge proposed legislation on these topics. This collaboration entails joint research and the mentoring of several young researchers regarding research design, fieldwork methodology and publishing. The various research projects all challenge the ANC governments’ agenda to centralize the power of senior traditional leaders within the contested tribal boundaries inherited from the apartheid era. Recent projects include research on South Africa’s Platinum mining belt – where the ‘corporatization’ of chieftaincy and the juridification of community participation make it hard for community members to challenge land deals between the mine and the senior traditional leaders on the basis of customary law; and research in the Eastern Cape on communities that challenge the one-size-fits all model of chieftaincy propagated by the government, for being a continuation of apartheid-era imposed structures.

Ubink has published extensively, in the form of books, book chapters, and international peer reviewed journals such as Law & Society Review, International Journal of Transitional justice, American Journal of Comparative Law, Development and Change, Africa, and Journal of African Law. Among her publications are the books “In the Land of the Chiefs: Customary Law, Land Conflicts, and the Role of the State in Peri-Urban Ghana” (2008), and “Customary Justice: Perspectives on Legal Empowerment” (2011).

Ubink’s research takes place within the context of the research program Effective Protection of Fundamental Rights in a Pluralist World.  

Teaching and Supervision

Ubink teaches a variety of courses in Law, governance and development, all in English, in the LL.B and Law and Society Master of Leiden Law School, at Leiden University College, the Hague and at the African Studies Centre. Besides teaching, she supervises Masters and PhD students.

Professor of Law, Governance and Development

  • Faculteit Rechtsgeleerdheid
  • Bedrijfsvoering
  • Faculteitsbestuur

Work address

Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden
Room number A1.53




  • Commission on Legal pluralism President
  • Journal of legal pluralism associate editor
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