Rule of Law Strongest in Rich Nations, Weakest in Poor

  • by Jim Lobe (washington)
  • Inter Press Service

The Rule of Law Index, which this year assessed 66 countries on eight key variables relevant to the rule of law, found that, with some exceptions, high-income countries generally perform significantly better than the world's poorest countries.

But it also found strong performance on specific variables by low- income and middle-income countries, such as Ghana, which earned high scores on ensuring limits to government power and access to civil justice, and several Latin American countries, led by Chile, on government transparency and respect for fundamental rights.

Among the five so-called BRICS countries — the emerging powers of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — South Africa and Brazil were the best performers, while Russia and India scored the lowest, and China fell squarely in the middle, according to the 147- page Index.

The Index, which last year assessed 35 countries and plans to canvass 100 nations in next year's edition, comes amid continuing attention to the rule of law in security the quality of governance that most international institutions believe is necessary for successful economic, political, and social development.

'The rule of law is the cornerstone to improving public health, safeguarding participation, ensuring security and fighting poverty,' said WJP founder William Neukom, a former president of the American Bar Association, which launched the organisation with help from, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, five years ago.

Despite its U.S. origins, the WJP has sought to ensure that its assessments would be based on principles that were 'culturally universal, avoiding Western, Anglo-American, and other biases'.

The eight variables used by the study included 'limited government powers,' or checks and balances; the absence of corruption; the clarity, publication, and stability of laws; order and security; respect for fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and the press; the openness and transparency of government; the fairness and effectiveness of the enforcement of government regulations; access to civil justice; and the effectiveness and impartiality of criminal, both formal and informal.

All 66 countries were assessed for their performance on those variables, scores for each of which were derived from quantitative and weighted assessments on three to eight sub-variables. Altogether, the Index included 53 sub-variables.

The scores were based on data accumulated from surveys carried out by local polling firms of 1,000 residents of the three largest cities in each country regarding their experience and perceptions and on the results of detailed questionnaires filled out by an average of more than 300 local legal experts.

The Index did not, however, provide an overall aggregate score and ranking for each country, but only for each of the nine variables.

'Disaggregated scores are useful for both government and civil society, enabling them to identify strong and weak areas in each country,' said Alejandro Ponce, the WJP's senior economist. 'The dimensions of the rule of law are not interchangeable; you cannot substitute order and security for a loss of openness.'

Nonetheless, the Index suggested a high correlation between high- income countries and the strength of the rule of law and, conversely, between poor countries and its weakness.

Norway, for example, received the highest of the 66 countries in three out of the eight variables and second in two more. Sweden scored first in three other categories and second in one, while New Zealand scored first in one (the absence of corruption), and second or third in four others.

Among eight low-income countries, on the other hand, Liberia earned the worst scores. It ranked last or second to last of the 66 countries on four of the eight variables — open government, regulatory enforcement, access to civil justice, and effective criminal justice. It scored best — 41st — on respect for fundamental rights.

Pakistan, one of 16 lower-middle-income countries covered by the survey, received even lower scores — 65th or 66th on five of the eight variables, including corruption, order and security, fundamental rights, open government, and access to civil justice. Its best score was 59th, — for regulatory enforcement.

By contrast, Ghana scored highest among low-income countries, landing among the top 25 in three variables: limited government powers, fundamental rights, and access to civil justice. Along with South Africa, an upper-middle-income country, it was the best performer of nine sub-Saharan African countries that also included Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda.

Among lower-middle-income countries, Jordan received the highest marks, although Indonesia, India, El Salvador, China and Thailand also scored well in specific categories. Aside from Pakistan, the poorest performers in this income bracket included Cameroon, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nigeria, and Ukraine.

Among the 19 upper-middle-income countries surveyed, Venezuela received the worst rankings, while Chile was the star performer, receiving top scores in this bracket -- and among the top 20 out of all 66 countries -- in six of the eight variables. Chile's worst performance was in order and security, where it ranked 45th overall.

Among the 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries covered by the Index, however, Chile ranked first in all eight variables, including order and security. Latin America, the Index noted, has the world's worst crime rates. Brazil and Peru were the next best regional performers. Venezuela received the lowest scores in the region, ranking either last or second to last in six of the variables.

With the exception of Chile, the 22 high-income countries dominated the top rankings across the board, with Western and Northern Europe generally out-performing the United States and Canada. Italy, on the other hand, was a glaring exception, with scores on most variables falling below those of Chile.

Even among wealthy countries, however, the Index found significant differences between the perceptions of low-income and high-income individuals, according to Juan Carlos Botero, the Index project director.

In general, he said, poor people were less likely to resort to the formal court system to resolve disputes than individuals with means both in developing countries and, with some exceptions, in wealthy nations. Like their counterparts in poor countries, low-income people in wealthy nations were also more likely to be exposed to extortion and abuse at the hands of police, according to the Index.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service