The mission of the World Justice Project (WJP) is to advance the rule of law worldwide. It sounds like a tall order, especially in this global political climate, with increasing authoritarianism, human rights violations, and attacks on democracy. But what is “rule of law,” exactly? Why does it matter? And how does WJP promote it?

What exactly is “Rule of Law”?

Although politicians routinely exploit the term to justify repressive and oppressive measures, rule of law, properly defined, doesn’t actually permit those kinds of abuses. Instead, Ted Piccone, WJP’s Chief Engagement Officer, describes rule of law as a “durable system” with four key elements – 1) accountability to the law; 2) just law, meaning laws should be clear, publicized, equitable, and protect fundamental rights; 3) open government – How are laws written and enforced? Is it fair, efficient and accessible?; and 4) accessible and impartial justice delivered by competent authorities.

WJP’s Rule of Law Index

WJP is best known for is its annual Rule of Law Index, which ranks countries based on how rule of law is experienced by average citizens and expert practitioners. For example, do people have access to court? Do authorities adhere to due process? Is corruption effectively controlled? Getting this data in the hands of policymakers, donors, academics, business leaders, media, and civil society actors helps those people identify challenges and solutions.  It also, to some extent, generates pressure on political leaders to improve.

The Rule of Law Index is just one tool that WJP uses to engage with people from various sectors to promote change. This last year, for example, the pandemic illuminated gaps in rule of law globally and, in many cases, exacerbated them. In terms of accountability, many governments issued a slew of strict emergency orders and provided little opportunity for legislatures to ratify those restrictions and for courts to adjudicate them. When it came to fundamental rights, marginalized groups around the world, including Asians in the U.S., faced discrimination, xenophobia, and racist attacks. Access to justice, legal services, and remedies were restricted. And, while some governments threw huge amounts of money at a pandemic response, few safeguards were put in place to ensure the money wasn’t corrupted or misspent

“The COVID-19 crisis really brought home how far away we are from strong rule of law societies,” says Piccone.

Read the full article about World Justice Project by Joanne Lu at Global Washington.