Countries facing troubling trends in rule of law: New report

By Evelyn Rupert

February 22, 2018

Sub-Saharan Africa takes positive strides, while Latin America and the Caribbean see steep drops

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Creative Senior Rule of Law Advisor, Jenny Murphy

Citizens’ fundamental rights and constraints on government powers suffered in nations around the globe in the past year, the World Justice Project finds in its annual Rule of Law Index.

Reflecting on the recently released report, Creative Associates International Senior Rule of Law Advisor Jenny Murphy says she is not surprised by its findings but that the global development field can take action to address the deficits.

“The drivers of this decline include lack of accountability and enforcement of existing laws,” she says. “The development world can respond by supporting civil society organizations’ demand for better accountability of justice sector institutions and providing access to justice.”

The 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index paints a picture of troubling trends globally, with the most negative change seen in citizens’ perceptions of their basic rights — including treatment free from discrimination, security, due process, and freedom of expression and religion. Fundamental rights scores dropped in 71 countries.

The other major downward trend centered on reduced constraints on government powers, which declined in 64 countries.

The Index measures adherence to the rule of law across nine indicators and is based on thousands of households and expert surveys in 113 countries.

Engaging citizens for change

At a panel event around the report’s release on Jan. 31, David Smolansky, the exiled former mayor of El Hatillo, Venezuela, said citizens — especially the younger generations — must have a voice to call for change in their countries’ institutions.

“We must always try to be engaged with people and with citizens, and people need to demand open governments and governments that have to be accountable. And when you start losing that, you’re going to start losing rule of law,” he said.

The overall global Rule of Law Index average score decreased only slightly from last year’s report, and 37 percent of countries’ scores remained unchanged. But the percentage of countries that saw their scores decline — 34 percent — outweighed the 29 percent that saw improvement.

Speaking at the panel event, Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described anti-corruption as the “bright spot” of the Index; nearly 70 countries saw their scores improve in absence of corruption. More than half of the indexed countries also saw an improvement in order and security.

New data, same challenges

The three highest- and lowest-ranked countries did not change since the previous report: Denmark, Norway and Finland hold the top three spots, while Afghanistan, Cambodia and Venezuela are rated lowest.

Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa saw the biggest overall improvements, although only 18 nations were able to be surveyed. According to the World Justice Project, the sub-Saharan African region showed the most improvement in absence of corruption. Ghana is the region’s top-ranking nation, and Burkina Faso and Kenya saw the biggest jump upward this year.

Latin America and the Caribbean saw the greatest overall decline. While three countries showed positive trends in open government, three experienced negative trends in constraints on government powers. Uruguay is the region’s highest-ranked country, in the 22nd spot out of 113.

Creative’s Murphy said that while the data is changing, the challenges for 2018 and beyond remain the same.

“Rule of law needs a strong foundation. Similar to a house, if there are cracks in the foundation or a leak in the roof, rule of law will start to deteriorate or erode,” she said. “The state should provide sufficient political will to institutionalize justice sector reforms so that said institutions can withstand the challenges to come, such as corruption and impunity.”

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