WASHINGTON - The rule of law - an
essential element of good governance - is
prospering best in the countries of northern
Europe and worst in Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and
Cameroon, according to the latest edition of a
five-year-old index released here Wednesday by the
World Justice Project (WJP).
The Rule of
Law Index, which this year assessed conditions in
a record 97 countries, whose combined population
comprises roughly 94% of the world's total, found
that higher-income countries, especially in North
America and Western Europe, generally respect the
rule of law more than poor nations.
233-page report also found strong performance on
several of the eight factors the Index uses to
quantify its assessments on
the part of specific
low- and middle-income countries.
Botswana, in particular, scored
consistently among the higher-income countries,
besting the United States, for example, in three
factors: providing fair and equal access to the
criminal and civil justice systems, and fair
enforcement of regulations. Another sub-Saharan
African country, Ghana, also scored well in
several categories, such as government
South Asia performed most
poorly among the major regional blocs, with
Pakistan and Bangladesh earning the worst scores.
"The rule of law is the foundation for
communities of opportunity and equity - it is the
predicate for the eradication of poverty,
violence, corruption, pandemics, and other threats
to civil society," said WJP's CEO, William Neukom,
a former president of the American Bar
Association, who launched the organization six
years ago with support from, among others, the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
its US origins, the WJP has sought to ensure that
its assessment is based on principles that are
"culturally universal, avoiding Western,
Anglo-America, and other biases".
factors used in the index contain "the basic
elements of rule of law that are applicable to any
country or culture around the world, from the
United States to Liberia," said Colombian jurist
Juan Carlos Botero, the project director.
A massive undertaking, the index is unique
among its kind in that it relies not only on
statistics compiled by governments and independent
monitoring groups, as well as the judgements of
some 2,500 local and international legal experts.
It also takes account of the views of the
general public in the 97 countries to help
determine how the law is actually applied to
ordinary people. One thousand respondents from the
three largest cities in each country were
interviewed about their own experience and
perceptions regarding rule-of-law issues, such as
corruption and discrimination in the legal system
against the poor or marginalized groups.
The eight major factors used by the index
to define how well a country respects the rule of
law include "limited government powers", which
includes government checks and balances and
accountability for abuses by officials; the
absence of corruption; the maintenance of civil
order and security; respect for fundamental
rights, including equal treatment for all;
government transparency; fair and timely
enforcement of regulations; and access to and the
effectiveness of both the civil and criminal
justice systems. It also addresses the performance
of informal justice systems.
countries were assessed for these factors, scores
for each of which were derived from weighted
assessments of three to eight sub-factors.
Altogether, 48 sub-factors were quantified. The
index did not provide an aggregate score and
ranking comprising all nine factors for each
country, but, rather, only for each of the
variables. "You lose a lot of the richness
of the report by providing an aggregate number
because a country may be very good in one category
and very poor in another," according to Alejandro
Ponce, WJP's senior economist. "The strength of
the index is that it is action-oriented; it tells
people where improvement is needed."
for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) scored
fifth among the 97 countries, behind Singapore,
Hong Kong, Finland and Denmark, on order and
security and 12th on criminal justice, but 78th on
India scored in the
top half on limited government and government
transparency but among the worst 15 on corruption
and second to last (just above Pakistan) on order
The best performers in Latin
America on most of the first eight categories,
according to the report, were Chile and Uruguay,
while Brazil ranked third or fourth in all but
order and security. Venezuela was the region's
worst performer six of the eight categories, while
Bolivia's scores also fell close to the bottom.
The index noted that the region is
characterized by strong contrasts, including
recent movements towards greater openness and
political freedoms at the same time that public
institutions remain fragile and government
accountability weak. It noted that crime rates in
the region are the world's highest and its
criminal justice systems among the world's worst.
Ghana and Botswana were the top
performers, along with South Africa and Senegal,
among the 18 sub-Saharan countries covered by the
index this year. Zimbabwe and Cameroon received
lowest or second-lowest scores in most of the
The report noted that most
African countries do relatively well in protecting
fundamental freedoms, despite a lack of checks on
government power, but public institutions,
including the courts, are generally inefficient
and vulnerable to corruption.
Western Europe and North America, East Asian
countries generally gained the highest scores
among all world regions, although there wide
variations between countries.
nations of Australia, New Zealand and Japan ranked
among the top 15 globally in nearly all categories
and South Korea and Singapore within the top 25.
Globally, Singapore also ranked first in order and
security, third in criminal justice, and fourth in
The worst Asian performer,
on the other hand, was Cambodia, which received
the lowest score in the region in four out of
eight categories. The report also noted that
Vietnam, China, and Malaysia need to do more to
ensure judicial independence and respect
fundamental rights, including labor rights.
Of the seven countries covered in the
Middle East and North Africa, the UAE and Tunisia
generally gained the highest scores in most
categories. Morocco topped the list on government
transparency even as it was ranked worst on
Lebanon topped the list on
fundamental rights, as did Jordan and Iran on
their civil justice systems. Iran scored the worst
in three of four categories, including government
transparency and checks and balances.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign
policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.