World Justice Forum and the Rule of Law

This past weekend, Vienna played host to the World Justice Forum, a project of the ABA’s World Justice Project. In attendance were more than 500 participants, including dignitaries and world leaders from 112 countries, scholars in a number of disciplines, former and present heads of state, CEOs of multinational corporations, labor leaders and directors of key nongovernmental organizations who met for four days to discuss the rule of law. The WJP described the four universal principles comprising the rule of law:

1. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law;
2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights,
including the security of persons and property;
3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient;
4. The laws are upheld, and access to justice is provided, by competent, independent, and ethical law enforcement officials, attorneys or representatives, and judges who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

A news release issued by the American Bar Association reports that participants of the multinational conference reported on their collaborative programs to strengthen the rule of law. In the session on human rights, Pakistani human rights activist Dr. Parvez Hassan stated, “The only thing worse than injustice, is tolerating injustice.” Hassan likened the situation Pakistan faced last year with the deposing of a large percentage of the country’s judges, to what would happen in the United States if seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices were stripped of power.

Also speaking at the session on human rights was US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. An ABA Journal article reports that an audience member challenged Judge Ginsburg saying that the United States no longer offers the world a model for commitment to the rule of law because of its anti-terrorist policies. Responding to concerns that US policies violated international conventions prohibiting indefinite detentions and inhumane treatment of detainees, Judge Ginsburg dismissed calls for accountability based on a revenge motive saying “Where do we go, what lessons can we learn from the past? The important thing is, what you can learn from the past and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Prosecutions of violations of law have traditionally served both the desire for retribution and the hope that they will deter future violations.