IPI HomeEventsSpeakers EventsArbour: What the Rule of Law Means

 

print print  |  share share back back

Speaker Events - Thursday, May 10, 2012

Arbour: What the Rule of Law Means

“In my understanding of the rule of law, fundamentally, what the rule of law means is that it embraces the principle of equality before the law,” Louise Arbour, president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), told an IPI audience on May 10, 2012. Ms. Arbour outlined that this means that no one is above the law and everyone has both equal protection and equal benefit of the law.

“We are very good at building institutions,” she said. “We are very bad at transforming cultures when it comes to these fundamental premises of rule of law.”

Ms. Arbour focused on this, which will be the topic of a high-level meeting at the opening of the General Assembly this fall. Ms. Arbour has previously served as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, a justice on the Supreme Court of Canada, and as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We have not embraced the flexibility and the more fundamental promise that the rule of law really has to offer, both in the field of development and in the field of security,” she said. “The rule of law, in my opinion, is the centerpiece of the enterprise in which the legal profession is engaged. I am a little bit concerned that we are selling it on the cheap.”

“I think it will feature very prominently on the development agenda. I think many donor countries will be very attracted. It’s the new mantra after governance, democracy, now, rule of law,” she said.

She warned however, not to mistake rule of law simply for building law enforcement institutions. “I’m very concerned that we are once again to fall into the trappings of mistaking institutions for substance. Mistaking form for substance. Enormous amounts of money will go into the institutional trappings of the rule of law, which, in fact, is heard by many authorities as law enforcement, which particularly authoritarian regimes are very fond of,” she said.

“Why is it not good to simply enforce laws?” she asked. “It’s very good to enforce just laws; it’s very bad to enforce unjust laws.” This means that, “we should stop shying away from content. We should stop believing that if we build an anti-corruption commission, or a human rights commission in a country, we’ve made a great achievement. We’ve done nothing, unless there is a culture and political will and monitoring for content,” she said.

“If we can have a public conversation about what the protection of the law really means, that it’s not just about empowering states, whether they are democratic or not, in getting better at repression. It’s the same thing as capacity building. Before we build capacity, we should have a very sober diagnosis of what is the deficiency,” she said. “If the deficiency is a deficiency of political will, and you build logistical capacity for law enforcement, this is very bad. That means you’re developing the skills of a regime that has no real political will to create this kind of system of equal protection, and equal benefit of the law.”

“To build good, competent judicial systems,” she said, “You need decades, not six weeks’ training of judges by foreign judges who come from different legal systems, including Western systems that are barely affordable for Western countries, and therefore not easily exportable.”

Asked about the competing claims of pursuing justice and maintaining peace in conflicts, she recommended, “Completely separate, these tracks. Really completely… they are parallel tracks. Sometimes the tracks will be very far away from each other. Other times, they will be uncomfortably close, but there will be no suggestion that one gets traded away for the other. In my view, that’s the way to go, and it would require further distancing from the Security Council as a first step, but not the only one.”

The event was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.

Listen to Global Observatory interview with Louise Arbour >>

Watch event:

The Global Observatory

Is a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip Feasible?
The ceasefire proposed by UNSG Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry to put an end to the violence in Gaza may be the best offer on the table, although important lessons from the past need to be heeded.

Key Global Events to Watch in July
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.

The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.

Recent Events

July 17, 2014
EU and UN Seek Ways to Improve Cooperation in Peacekeeping
The European Union is among the strongest supporters of UN peacekeeping missions around the globe, but the growing challenges faced by UN-led operations have raised the need for better EU-UN cooperation, both on the ground and at the planning level.

July 01, 2014
SRSG Johnson: South Sudan Crisis Changed UNMISS “Mindset”
Hilde Johnson, the outgoing Head of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), gave an overflow IPI audience a dramatic account of the challenging situation that has faced the United Nations in the country since the eruption of mass violence at the end of last year.

June 25, 2014
Mousavian: Iran and US Have Serious Chance for Rapprochement
From Iraq to Syria, from energy to counterterrorism, Iran and the United States share many common interests across the Middle East and ought to put aside their decades of hostility, said author and former Iranian diplomat Seyed Hossein Mousavian.

View More