One of the big themes at this year’s meeting of the UN General Assembly is the rule of law. The General Assembly devoted a whole day to the topic last week. Many fine speeches were given as the soaring aspirations of the UN Charter were invoked time and again. But for all the stirring words, many if not most of the world’s people live in countries where rule at law is at best words on paper rather than a living reality. My colleague Mark Lagon is out with a new report that argues that the way to turn rule-of-law aspirations into realities is by creating a Global Trust for Rule of Law. I asked Mark to explain the basic idea behind the Trust. Here is what he had to say:
Countless treaties and numerous laws that guarantee rights have been signed and passed. However, many countries—primarily the developing countries—need help with a more basic goal: implementing rule of law. The High-Level meeting on rule of law at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week was striking. It was the first time that a meeting on rule of law has occurred at this level and at this scale at the United Nations. Yet it is not enough, and a more nimble and powerful partnership than the UN is needed.
Announced last winter, this meeting at the annual confab of heads of state in New York led member states to make pledges, which included supporting the rule of law, training officials in the field of justice, and encouraging efforts at the individual and at the global level. But many of the pledges by illiberal states were thin gruel, as they sought window dressing and poised to maneuver in the UN to block intrusive efforts to meddle in their governance.
My new Policy Innovation Memorandum, “A Global Trust for Rule of Law,” aims to fill the void. Seeking to create a mechanism for people—minorities, migrants, women, the poor—who have been deprived of legal rights, a Global Trust for Rule of Law is a partnership between the public and private sectors, governments, nonprofits, and multilateral bodies and banks to increase the capacity for rule of law, so people and nations can reach their economic potential. Similar to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has been widely praised in financing disease eradication programs, the Global Trust would operate by offering grants and technical advice.
Why, in order to finally build trust in rule of law, should we develop a Global Trust? Well, unfortunately, no other body has or will have the ability to effect marked change in this area. The UN has had forty entities working in 110 countries over the past twenty years on programs dedicated to rule of law, yet it has been unable to make any kind of lasting change. Other intergovernmental bodies and banks lack the scope or even will to bring systemic change; a body like the Global Trust that can bring all these actors together is the way to go.
We need public-private partnerships to offer this kind of governance. For instance, President Obama spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative the same day he made his annual UNGA address and focused on human trafficking. The president praised partnerships fighting human trafficking—one stark example of people denied access to justice and opportunity, commodified for sex and labor. He highlighted groups like the newly launched Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking that bring together businesses to directly eradicate trafficking and all forms of forced labor. (Full disclosure: As former U.S. antitrafficking envoy, I assisted in the creation of gBCAT.) We need such partnerships desperately. Yet we need ones whose aim is to promote access to justice even more broadly than preventing human trafficking, and ones including not just the UN and businesses.
This doesn’t mean the UN isn’t significant. Keeping the UN as a convener and source of a cross-cultural definition of rule of law based on procedural consistency and judicial independence can provide the Global Trust with its imprimatur of legitimacy.
Yet the United States will have to be a leader in developing this initiative and providing seed funding. To quote Madeleine Albright, even after the Iraq intervention and the bloom is off the rose of American-led neoliberal economics, the United States remains “the indispensable nation”—not the unipolar guarantor of liberal norms, but a critical catalyst. A Fund would leverage that role.
While a significant U.S. pledge would not be palatable to the austerity-focused policymakers in Washington, taking advantage of the Global Trust would have an enormous multiplier effect in prosperity, pluralism, and peace. As Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros observed in Foreign Affairs, by facilitating rule of law in developing countries, we can advance human dignity while also laying a foundation for poverty reduction and economic growth. This is not an unaffordable cost in lean times, but a bargain—investing in America’s and the world’s interests. Join the discussion about creating such a global partnership fund.