The Rule of Law and Why It Matters to Us All

On February 9, in partnership with the World Justice Project (WJP) the World Affairs Council hosted WJP Founder and CEO William Neukom and Executive Director Dr. Juan Carlos Botero for a discussion “Understanding the Rule of Law—and Why It Matters to Us All ”. Founded in 2006, the WJP, through the development of their indices, helps governments and communities around the world by offering independent comprehensive data to help shape policies.

WJP4Why the Rule of Law Matters to Us All” was the linchpin of the discussion on understanding the rule of law. This ordinary-citizen focus places the ownership and integrity of functioning rule of law systems into the hands of ordinary citizens. The conversation was preceded with a brief video which opens with a testimony by Reverend Desmond Tutu: “Dear friends, the rule of law matters to all of us; to the entire human family. Wherever we live, however we look, regardless of our ethnicity, religion, gender geographical location or class. Strengthening the rule of law is an essential ingredient to enhance justice, peace, and economic and social progress. It underpins functional societies and drives development.”

Mr. Neukom set the framework for the discussion by providing historical examples ranging from the Code of Hammurabi to the Magna Carta, illustrating how the rule of law has been a necessary element of all human societies. Albert Einstein’s powerful words underscored the intrinsic relationship between the rule of law and a functioning human society, “We must learn the difficult lesson that an endurable future of humanity will be possible only if…decisions are based on law and justice and not on self-righteous power.” The WJP fills a void on the global stage as an impartial organization that provides a universal definition of the rule of law, indices of measurement, and promotes home grown rules of law reflecting each nation’s culture. Dr. Botero explained that the WJP’s work is guided by three ‘Ms’: Meaning, Measurement, and Mattering. In order to conduct their work, the WJP needed to nail down a universal (not-Western, unbiased) meaning of the rule of law, develop impartial and accurate mechanisms to measure the rule of law, and ensure that it matters to the ordinary citizen

WJP3The WJP operates under two premises and is guided by four principles in order to tackle the tremendous challenge of defining and measuring the rule of law. The scope of their project can be daunting, Mr. Neukom remarked, “If you ask twenty highly educated people what the rule of law is, you’ll get twenty different answers.” The first premise is that the rule of law is the foundation for communities of peace, opportunity, and equity. The second states that multidisciplinary collaboration is the most effective way to advance the rule of law. It is this second principle which reinforces that every citizen is a stakeholder in the rule of law. Mr. Neukom was adamant that the rule of law is for everyone – artists, engineers, teachers, scientists, and faith leaders alike, as the everyday issues of safety, rights, justice, and governance affects us all. Building on these premises, the WJP developed four universal principles that guide their measurement indices for the rule of law. In brief these four principles delineate: governments and their officials must be held accountable; laws must be clear, just, and universally applied upholding fundamental human rights; the process which laws are enacted and enforced are accessible and fair; and that justice is delivered by ethical, independent representatives who reflect the makeup of the communities they serve. Visit the WJP website for a complete explanation of the principles defining the rule of law, and the nine factors and forty-four sub-factors used to compile the WJP’s rule of law index, currently providing country-specific measurement and data on 113 countries.

WJP2Mr. Neukom and Dr. Botero stressed that rule of law is necessary to build prosperous, equitable, and peaceful societies. Moreover, they see the WJP’s role as a resource for governments, advocacy groups, and grassroots civil society groups to use as a reliable source of impartial, non-partisan data measuring the rule of law. While the WJP acknowledged there is increased difficulty in collecting data in war-torn and autocratic nations, Mr. Neukom stated, “We are not attacking government, our theory of change is to be a resource…We are missionaries who try to wear our impartiality on our sleeves. We’re not there to cause trouble, we’re here to provide information.” It is notable that the WJP does not measure a government’s rule of law based off of written constitutions or statutes. Rather, the organization is interested in the lived experience of the ordinary citizens. It is in this way that the ownership and integrity of the rule of law is placed into the hands of people from all walks of life, not simply the domain of government agencies and officials.

Thanks to the trailblazing and tireless work of the World Justice Project, progress has been made to strengthen and improve the rule of law scores across the globe, from both top-down government efforts, to bottom-up grassroots initiatives. Not only does the World Justice Project work to provide foundational measurement data and resources necessary to evaluate the rule of law. It also serves as a reminder that the rule of law is critical to the make-up of human society, and that everyone is a stakeholder.