The World Justice Project (WJP) says that its Rule of Law Index, which ranks 102 countries, is the most comprehensive of its kind and the only one to rely on primary data. The scores are based on responses from 1,000 people in each country, who were asked questions about corruption, basic freedoms, regulation and other governance issues, and on testimonies from local legal experts.
The reports’ authors said their work had informed ongoing discussions around the post-2015 development agenda, which places greater emphasis on good governance and rule of law as agents of economic and social progress.
The proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs), meant to guide development priorities until 2030, include commitments to promote the rule of law, ensure equal access to justice, end corruption, and ensure transparent and accountable institutions.
Juan Carlos Botero, executive director of WJP and one of the report’s authors, said the study could help countries produce their own indicators on these issues. “Areas of rule of law tend to be sensitive … but just as countries measure economic indicators and health indicators with certain levels of uniformity, they should be able to measure justice and corruption and governance in the same way,” Botero said.
Alejandro Ponce, chief research officer at WJP and co-author of the report, said rule of law and justice were critical for development but admitted this idea still faced opposition as countries hammer out the details of the SDGs and their specific targets ahead of a summit at the UN in September to ratify the goals.
“Several countries still do not agree that this is an issue that should be taken into account in the SDGs. There has been a lot of push back and forth on whether this is a topic that really needs consideration and really needs to be included in this framework,” he said.
“Without progress towards stronger, more efficient institutions … rule of law, justice and government accountability, other aspects of development cannot progress. There is growing recognition of that fact … and there is growing awareness among governments that those issues are measurable and that they impact development goals.”
WJP noted that its survey did not include countries in conflict, such as Syria and Libya, or nations where state institutions were particularly weak, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The indicators used in the study were: constraints on government power; absence of corruption; open government; fundamental rights; order and security; regulatory enforcement; civil justice; criminal justice and informal justice.
Each indicator encompassed several elements. For example, within constraints on government power, was the question of whether government powers are effectively limited by legislative and judicial bodies, whether officials are sanctioned for misconduct, and whether transition of power is subject to the law.
The US stood in 19th place in the rankings, just below France (18). Russia was in 75th place, below China (71) and Ukraine (70). Turkey stood in 80th place, just below Mexico at 79. Afghanistan was the second-worst country, with Zimbabwe ranking 100th.
Botero said Venezuela had occupied the last place for several years. “The situation has continued to deteriorate … In various aspects of the rule of law – from police brutality, police accountability, freedom of speech, checks and balances on government, corruption – the government of Venezuela and the institutions, in general, are lagging behind the rest of the countries,” he said.
The survey also sought to gauge perceptions of corruption: people from sub-Saharan Africa held the most negative view of corruption in institutions, while 47 countries identified parliament or congress as the institution with the most corrupt members, with 32 countries putting the police in first place.
“That was a little surprising to me,” said Botero. “People interact with local governments and the police much more often than they do with national institutions.”
When asked if they had to pay a bribe when stopped or detained by the police, 58% of those questioned in sub-Saharan Africa said yes, compared with 43% in eastern Europe and central Asia, and 23% in the Middle East and north Africa. In Europe, it was just 9%.
“The rule of law is not the rule of lawyers and judges; all elements of society are stakeholders,” the report said. “It is our hope that, over time, this diagnostic tool will help identify strengths and weaknesses in each country under review and encourage policy choices that strength the rule of law.”
Botero said countries had to tackle issues such as corruption and access to justice by themselves. “They should be able to make progress in the absence of external influences because at the end of the day, it is a homegrown culture of rule of law that we are trying to promote. It’s not the west, or anybody else, telling other countries what they should do.”