Journalist Remmy Bahati fights for more rule of law in Uganda. Fundamental rights should be better protected and corruption prevented. Other factors also influence the “Rule of Law Index”, which has been falling worldwide for the past five years.

It’s evening, the television is on. Suddenly armed men are at the door. They break in and search the house. They are police officers and soldiers in civilian clothes. They take the son of the family and his cousin with them and drive away in a minibus without license plates.

That, says Ugandan journalist Remmy Bahati, happened to her family in Fort Portal in western Uganda at the beginning of October. “We initially waited 48 hours,” Bahati, who lives in the United States, told DW. “Because by law, someone who has committed a crime must be charged in court within 48 hours. But that just didn’t happen.”

Bahati believes that the Ugandan government wanted revenge by abducting her brother. “I researched some stories that the government didn’t like,” she says, about a controversial pipeline project, for example.

What the journalist describes is an example of the abuse of power, the violation of fundamental rights and the lack of proper criminal justice. In short: for a lack of rule of law in Uganda. In other words, a state that creates binding law and ensures that it is observed.

The Rule of Law Index 2022 confirms that things are in bad shape in Uganda. Uganda ranks 128th out of 140 countries surveyed. In particular, the lack of protection of fundamental rights and widespread corruption are pulling the country down in the index.

Since 2009, the index of the non-governmental organization “World Justice Project” has measured the development of the rule of law worldwide based on eight factors. More than 154,000 households and 3,600 legal experts were surveyed for this year’s index.

Experts keep discussing what exactly constitutes a constitutional state. There is agreement that in a constitutional state – unlike Remmy Bahati’s family in Uganda – citizens can rely on the applicable laws being observed.

Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands can be regarded as exemplary. They occupy the first five places in the rule of law ranking. Germany is in sixth place; it does not receive top marks for the openness of government and administrative activities, for example because authorities sometimes stonewall journalists.

Within the EU, Hungary performs the worst. At the bottom of the list are Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Cambodia and bottom of the list Venezuela. There, fundamental rights such as freedom of expression are not adequately protected and the actions of the government are not adequately controlled.

The example of China shows that even countries that are overall in the lower midfield of the ranking can suffer from a very weak rule of law. Because China does quite well when it comes to fighting corruption and maintaining order and security; however, the country is in last place when it comes to protecting fundamental rights and the separation of powers.

According to an analysis by the World Justice Project, the rule of law has weakened in six out of ten countries over the past year. This is the fifth year in a row that the Rule of Law Index has fallen on average worldwide.

“Authoritarian trends that preceded the pandemic continue to undermine the rule of law,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the World Justice Project. “Government control is weakening and respect for human rights is declining.”

Since 2020, measures to combat the corona pandemic, such as restrictions on freedom of movement and emergency powers for governments, have undermined the rule of law in many countries around the world. While this decline in the rule of law has now slowed, it is continuing.

“We are overcoming the health crisis, but not the rule of law crisis,” says Andersen. “Today, 4.4 billion people live in countries where the rule of law is weaker than last year.” The core of the rule of law is the principle of fairness, says Andersen, i.e. equal rights and justice for everyone. “A less fair world is bound to be a more volatile world.”

The lack of rule of law in Uganda had very personal consequences for journalist Remmy Bahati. Her brother and cousin are now free again, she says, but the fear has remained.

“They let my brother go without charge after nine days – but they gave him a message for me. I should stop tweeting about human rights and the planned East African oil pipeline.” Bahati said she used to be very self-confident. But now she is afraid to express her opinion freely.

Author: Peter Hille

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The original of this article “What the global decline in the rule of law means” comes from Deutsche Welle.