Incoming ABA President William H. Neukom plans a "multi-disciplinary movement" to advance the rule of law � in the United States and internationally
By William H. Neukom|August 08, 2007 at 12:00 AM
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With the resources and knowledge we have today, why are so many communities afflicted by violence, poverty, corruption, sickness and ignorance � in short, injustice? Why, in our own nation, are defendants subject to the death penalty without access to qualified legal counsel to defend their rights in court? Why, in other countries, are lawyers arrested for representing dissidents or judges dismissed by the executive branch for unpopular decisions? The answer in each case concerns the rule of law � or, more precisely, its absence. The rule of law is the foundation for all thriving societies, and it is what gives traction to efforts to address the world’s most deep-rooted problems. Without the rule of law, communities are vulnerable to violence, poverty, corruption, sickness and ignorance � indeed, they probably are doomed to remain that way. In the coming year, my chief focus as American Bar Association president will be to organize a multi-disciplinary movement to advance the rule of law � in the United States and internationally � through the World Justice Project. Rule-of-law efforts have played a growing role at the ABA since 1990, when the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative began offering technical legal assistance to nations emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the ABA works with local partners to train lawyers and judges in more than 40 nations. Other disciplines have promoted facets of the rule of law, or seen their efforts undermined by its absence. Human rights groups have called attention to violations by lawless governments, but often have little leverage to halt injustices. Business organizations promote investment in poorer nations, only to be thwarted by corruption, inhumane labor practices and courts that don’t properly enforce contracts. Perhaps most tragically, attempts to deliver food and medicine to the world’s poorest nations often are lost forever in a maze of black markets. All disciplines have learned that if we are to attain our individual visions, we must work together to lay our common foundation: the rule of law. No one discipline can build the rule of law alone. Such united effort is the difference between comprehensive, steady progress and spinning our wheels through scattered effort. The World Justice Project will unite the many professions and disciplines that depend directly on advancing the rule of law. Through education and discussion, the project will work to make the rule of law a mainstream concept, as central to engineers, environmentalists and journalists as it is to lawyers. Already, the project has gained important support in the international legal community. The International Bar Association, the Union Internationale des Avocats, the Inter-American Bar Association and the Inter-Pacific Bar Association have joined the ABA in co-sponsoring the project. We are honored to have three former secretaries of state � Madeleine Albright, James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher � as well as two current and one former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court�Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor � among the project’s honorary co-chairs. And we have already begun the process of expanding this discussion about the rule of law to numerous disciplines. In February, a meeting in Washington brought together more than 90 U.S. leaders from such fields as education, engineering, environment, labor, media, military, public health and religion. A second meeting was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in July. All participants agreed that expanding the rule of law is essential to the success of their work. We expect that these and future efforts will lead to formal partnerships. What is the rule of law and, just as importantly, what can be done to advance it at the ground level? “Rule of law” has been defined in many ways over the years, often by pundits and talking heads who have diluted the meaning of the term. The World Justice Project describes the following principles as the basis for the rule of law:
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