Weak civil society and rule of law can blight lives, particularly for those who most need the protection of the state. A comprehensive new report reveals wide disparities, with parts of Asia faring quite poorly.
The lack of rule of law in many regions of the world means that people are subjected to arbitrary repression by the state; they are robbed of their rights to education, medical care and development. "Rule of law is the prerequisite for equal opportunities and justice," William H. Neukom, founder and CEO of the World Justice Project (WJP), told DW.
The WJP has presented its the Rule of Law Index 2012. One thing striking about the report is that it does not focus on abstract laws and institutions, but instead, it concentrates on people and their experiences. "The novelty of the index is that it was created using interviews from 97,000 completely normal people," Columbian lawyer Juan Botero told DW.
"The experiences of the people are different to the information otherwise provided by the news and the elite power figures of the respective countries," Botero, who is also executive director of WJP, said. He explained the study's new approach using an example: one could ask a government how many policemen are employed to secure law and order. But in order to find out how safe the people really feel, one must ask them themselves.
Dimensions of rule of law
The study's 97,000 participants provided information on all areas of the rule of law, which for the study were divided into nine dimensions: limited government powers; absence of corruption; order and security; fundamental rights; open government; regulatory enforcement; civil justice; criminal justice and informal justice.
The study took into account that the different dimensions have to be looked at individually as they could, more or less, at different levels. China, for example, ranks high on an international scale in fighting crime. It comes in at place 32. But when it comes to limited government powers through checks and balances, it comes in quite low, at number 85.
Prosperity and rule of law
Despite all differences in the categories, rule of law had a universal quintessence, Botero explained. The study's primary goal was "to show that rule of law does not mean governance through laws."
The report confirms the correlation between prosperity and rule of law. But Alejandro Ponce said one should not jump to conclusions: "some differences can be explained by levels of income but not all differences." Rule of law and prosperity thus stood in a complex relation to each other and the data could not allow a distinct explanation for the correlation.
The Western world faired relatively well, with Germany coming in among the top 10.
The report placed emphasis on civil law, the main characteristics of which were "the affordability of legal representatives, access to and the effectiveness of courts and the restriction of inadmissible manipulation of the judicial system."
Rule of law in Asia
Asia is the region of the world with the greatest variation with regard to the rule of law. Despite this three groups emerge.
Wealthy nations such as Japan and South Korea perform very well in almost all areas.
A second group of Asian countries do indeed show a comparatively high standard where pubic order is concerned, but they show significant deficiencies when it comes to basic rights, the independence of the judiciary, the protection of minorities and the fight against corruption. This second group includes China, Vietnam and Malaysia.
South Asia - meaning India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - performs worse than any other region in the world. As far as India is concerned, this is altered little by the fact that there is a comparatively good system of checks and balances and basic rights. The countries in this third group are plagued by corruption, with governments showing a lack of accountability. The courts are often inefficient and slow, with minorities facing discrimination.