The legal system is a civil law system borrowed from Ethiopia's adaptation of the Napoleonic Code. The court system consists of courts of first instance, courts of appeals composed of 5 judges, and military courts, which handle crimes committed by members of the military. Traditional courts play a major role in rural areas, where village elders determine property and family disputes under customary law or in the case of Muslims, Sharia law.
Although the judiciary appears to function independently of the executive branch, it suffers from lack of resources and training. The new constitution promulgated in 1997 provides for democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free assembly, and free association.