Why Development Needs the Rule of Law

Conflict-affected states—those, by definition, where the rule of law is lacking—count for disproportionately high percentages of the developing world’s poor, uneducated and infant deaths.

In Mexico since 2006, tens of thousands have been killed, and many more disappeared, as a war between narcotics gangs and government security forces has engulfed civilians, though few perpetrators have been brought to justice. In Equatorial Guinea, a country with per capita GDP greater than Italy or South Korea, 60 percent of the population survives on less than $1 a day, as oil revenues are siphoned off by widespread corruption. Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, in defiance of repeated court judgments, Roma children are condemned to second-class education because of the color of their skin.

A common problem underlies each of these tragedies: the failure of the rule of law.

In recent years, the concept of the “rule of law” has been gaining increased attention in academic and political circles.  Now, a major opportunity to capitalize on the recent fascination with the rule of law is on the horizon: the post-2015 generation of Millennium Development Goals.

In September 2000, world leaders came together to proclaim, in the Millennium Declaration, that “the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people” (para. 5). The Declaration pledged the UN General Assembly’s commitment to a set of ambitious, time-bound, measurable goals to promote development and reduce poverty. But it also identified a number of other “key objectives,” including to further peace and security, protect the environment, and “promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In 2001, when the Declaration was operationalized into a set of Millennium Development Goals, the rule of law, human rights, democracy, and the environment were left out. Nonetheless, the MDGs, as they have become known, have had a substantial impact in their respective fields. As of 2010, five years before their deadline, the overarching goal of halving extreme poverty had been met. Primary education enrollment rates have increased measurably in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. MDG-related health gains in respect of malaria and HIV/AIDS have led to big reductions in child mortality in several countries.

At the same, time the absence of the rule of law has been telling. No low-income country experiencing armed conflict has achieved a single MDG. To the contrary, conflict-affected states—those, by definition, where the rule of law is lacking—count for disproportionately high percentages of the developing world’s poor, uneducated, and infant deaths. In advanced economies too, those portions of the population denied access to justice suffer from higher levels of discrimination in education and other public services.

The debate over the next generation of MDGs is underway. A high-level UN panel, co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will issue its recommendations by June, and the Secretary General will make his report to the UN General Assembly this September. Then it will be up to governments to decide.

There are many good reasons to include the rule of law—whether under its own name or that of a sister moniker such as “access to justice”—in the next generation of MDGs. These include its contributions to sustainable development, poverty reduction, and citizen security and empowerment. 

And there are many ways to do so. It could be a goal in its own right, reflecting the fact that, as world leaders reaffirmed just last September, the rule of law is of “fundamental importance for political dialogue and cooperation among all States and for the further development of the three main pillars upon which the United Nations is built: international peace and security, human rights, and development.”

The rule of law also could be integrated into concrete and measurable targets, such as doubling over the next decade the number of people who enjoy access to legal advice at low or no cost, or halving the number of people who have no legal identity. In addition, rule of law-related indicators—measuring, for example, whether national legislation authorizes provision of medication necessary to treat certain health conditions or education of all children of a certain age; whether legal frameworks are in place to resolve disputes over access to medicine or education; and whether provisions guaranteeing access to health care or schooling are enforced equally without discrimination—could be used to facilitate progress toward other goals, whether with respect to education, health care, or poverty reduction.

But perhaps the most important reason to include the rule of law in the post-2015 development framework is that it’s the right thing to do. A culture of respect for the rule of law remains both an essential foundation for human well-being and a distant goal in many places. Since the first MDGs were promulgated a dozen years ago, rule of law emergencies have continued to arise—from the terrorist violence of 9/11 to the overreaction of rendition and torture, from civil war in Syria to the collapse of social order in parts of Iraq, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Failure to incorporate the rule of law into the post-2015 MDGs would send an unacceptable message: that states cannot muster the political capital needed to change course. As the idea of the rule of law gains currency around the world, political leaders will have to do better.

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Yes i totally agree development needs rules of law , and we don't have it in our country hope to see it soon

thanks James


Nancy , العملات

I find the article interesting, which I think is a relevant pertinent issue for country like Nepal. However, will somebody help me seek ways of measuring justice or rules of law ?..............because I am still skeptical about the means of measurements. Thankzz

Justice and the rule of law has ever been as a priority before, today and in the years to come!

As we are said to be celebrating the success of the MDG, ' Reduction of Poverty' by 2015 Poverty continues to be in front of our very eyes daily, where we choose not to ignore it! This has been a direct result of the inability to ensure equitable distribution of wealth to all!

Where a certain class of People have been and continue enjoying the fruits of decreased poverty in metropolitan cities of the world and the poor majority of rural dwellers have been continuing and are continuing to become more poorer, it is unjust and in contravention to the rule of law!

Where we choose to look beyond the cities and towns of the world today we will see the rural poor who survive on less than two meals a day, hardly affording one decent meal a day-and that is unjust, it is against the rule of law that the means of production have not beem equitably shared to enable the rural poor to send their children to decent schools! It is against the rule of law where the rural poor continue to be dying of disease because of inaccessible decent health services! It is unjust and against the rule of law where the majority of our fellow human beings in rural communities are denied decent housing and the facilities that come with it! It is unjust and against the rule of law where the majority of our fellow huma beings in rural communities have been living and continues to leave without access to electricity and the TV!

This where all the above are but enjoyed and continues being enjoyed by just a minute fraction of the human populations and the majority of rural dwellers continue being denied the same benefits of equitable distribution of resources to access such benefits!

Yes, Justice and the rule of law continues to more urgent a global goal today, in future as it has always been!

Political leaders need to be held accountable to the eradication of these unjust practices and others as we march to beyond 2015!

Yes one will agree, but without a human rights culture 'rule of law' remains a dream....

Development without laws isn't development at all; is just exploitation of everything. The only thing we now do is to "develop", to transform the whole earth to a huge graveyard for plants, animals, humans, ideas, souls..........

My best regards


Россия авторитарное государство
В России отсутствует Судебная система. Суды, прокуратура, полиция - это механизмы "работающие" от прихоти В Путина. Всех судей назначает на службу Президент, он их увольняет - в этой связи судьи не следуют закону и ответственности. Судьи властвуя прислуживают коррупционному клану, подавляют демократию, права и свободы.
Прокуратура (которая, по Конституции обязана чтить закон и порядок) - провоцирует беспорядки и фальсифицирует судебные дела на невиновных, законно-послушных граждан. Полицейские - исполнители провокаций и насилия, исполнители захвата собственности граждан, уничтожения свободы, прав, уничтожают демократические организации и т.д. За частую в убийствах журналистов и правозащитников участвуют работники прокуратуры и полиции

As for Uganda, there is complete erosion of the rule of law characterized with denial of freedom of speech, movement, peaceful assembly, no dependency in the judiciary, corruption and so many other incidents. For instance the media doesn't have all the freedom it requires to do its work. We need to do more than we are doing today so that this dream can come to reality.

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