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A debate exists regarding the limits of international law to influence state behaviour. Some attribute these limits to the inability of law to compel states to incorporate norms into domestic legal frameworks. Others maintain that even if institutionalised, the incapacity of states to put those norms into action is where the problem lies. In examining displacement and dispossession through land grabbing in Mozambique, the author investigates what limits the ability of international and national law to address displacement and dispossession. She argues that the limits of law to address displacement and dispossession are not due to a lack of institutionalising international good governance norms into domestic-level legal frameworks. Rather, the limits of law lie within the norm implementation process, wherein norms are conditioned by the local Mozambican governance context to serve domestic interests. As such, the other frequently cited reason of lack of state capacity is not to blame. The author explains the gap between law and practice by examining the role that a decentralised land governance structure has had upon shaping the norm implementation process. The evidence points to a state that devolves power over norm implementation to local actors, who frequently interpret them to their advantage. This co-option cannot be attributed to a lack of state capacity, as the material benefits the state accrues in the process point to a state that is disinterested in seeing the norms implemented and has devised decentralisation as a strategic governance strategy to accumulate these benefits.

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Refugee Studies Centre

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