Looking Back to the Future

This has been quite a rule of law year. One peak was in August 2012, when the United Nations General Assembly devoted its first-ever opening debate to the rule of law and adopted a Declaration on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels. As Juan Botero, director of the World Justice Project poetically described it to me: “193 government leaders walked up to the podium and said rule of law is good. And that is good.”

It is. But it could have been better. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report called Delivering Justice. Recommending its reading should go hand in hand with disclosing that I participated in a retreat that laid its foundations. Delivering Justice was meant to give the negotiators of the Declaration inspiration and ideas. It did: mostly on what they did not want. The report covers a lot of ground and makes quite a number of concrete and sensible suggestions on what governments can do to strengthen rule of law. Quite a few things fell off the wagon that negotiated the hilly tracks from the Secretary-General’s office to the General Assembly gathering. Paragraph 11 of Delivering Justice emphasised that the UN Security Council should fully adhere to applicable international law and basic rule of law principles. Paragraph 2 Declaration more blandly recognizes that the rule of law applies to the United Nations and its principle organs. A solidly worded paragraph 18 of Delivering Justice on effective and equitable justice service delivery morphed into a blabbering paragraph 14 of the Declaration emphasizing the right of equal access to justice for all (making me ask: what legal value does “emphasizing” a right have?), and committing to “taking all necessary steps to provide services that promote access to justice for all, including legal aid”. The biggest loss in practical terms was the fact that all serious references to measuring rule of law delivery were omitted in the Declaration. Paragraph 21 of Delivering Justice on national data collection could have provided huge stimulus to making justice delivery more effective, based on knowledge, and not on beliefs.

Between 30 September and 5 October the International Bar Association held its annual conference. The conference agenda had quite a few sessions on things that go beyond business and billable hours: war crimes, ethics, human rights, torture, anti-corruption, legal education, corporate social responsibility, world organisations, and even rule of law in 2030 (disclosure 2: I participated in that last session). It is not a place for big reports and complex politics, but it represents a lot of financial and behind-the-scenes rule of law power. The IBA has much more potential to become an even more formidable network of rule of law strengthening and thinking about rule of law’s future.

November saw the Summit of the Global Agenda Councils of the World Economic Forum meet in Dubai. This amazing network of topic- and region-related councils works on global issues from competitiveness and cities to innovation and social media. As Global Agenda Council on the Rule of Law (disclosure 3: I am chair), we learned once more that rule of law is part of solving almost every global issue. Despite the language of the Declaration, more and more governance does not take place within the traditional state-international organisations model. And we do not really have rule of law models for this. Too much transnational problem-solving today is driven only by immediate effectiveness arguments. When states, international organisations, companies, and civil society organisations get together to solve a transnational problem they should, as much as they can, practically apply these notions to what they are doing. That is what we will continue to work on the coming year and at the Davos meeting: finding practical ways to bring rule of law into coordinated governance between states, international organisations, civil society organisations, and business (see also:

November also saw the launch of the 2012 edition of the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project. Where the UN member states could not agree to measuring rule of law the World Justice Project continues to enlarge the group of countries it measures and to further develop its already impressive index. It is already a formidable tool now; twenty years from now it will show invaluable trends.

The year ended high: the Law, Justice and Development Week of the World Bank group. Hundreds of participants from all the international and regional financial institutions, civil society organisations, academic institutions, and think tanks gathered in Washington to learn and connect around justice, law and development. Last year, the World Bank launched a pioneering network: the Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development. It is an open platform for those that work on rule of law and development. The amazing thing: after building it, the World Bank does not govern it. It is placed at the disposal of the rule of law development world and thematic working groups building communities of practice. Themes are emerging, initiatives are emerging, and leaders are emerging.

Concluding: important foundations for the future of rule of law were laid in 2012. The UN may not have the lead as much as one might have hoped; other institutions did more than one might have thought possible.

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