Understanding Different Aspects of Rule of Law

Opinion23.02.2018Aung Thu Hein
FNF Myanmar

The word “Rule of Law” had become one of the most widely-used words in Myanmar since Myanmar started walking the long road of Democratic transition in 2010. It could be heard everywhere in Myanmar and used by all sorts of people whether they were from governments, parliaments, businesses, NGOs, academics or just local villagers. More and more people became aware of its importance and its linkage with other key components of democracy. International non-governmental organizations like Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), which values the principles of Liberal Democracy, always regarded Rule of Law as one of the most important principles of Democracy and Liberalism; and considered it as a fundamental pillar of an open, inclusive and developed society.

However, different persons had different understanding on Rule of Law and many people tried to define it as they see fit. This is where some people misunderstood or wrongly interpreted Rule of Law with Rule by Law. At first glance, they seemed similar but they were totally different in nature. Rule by Law simply mean people were ruled by authorities using the laws. There was no consideration of fairness or justice or equality; all of which were very important for Rule of Law. As long as the authorities ruled the people according to the laws, it was Rule by Law.

There was no single, universally accepted definition of Rule of Law and even the experts and academics had different views on the principles of it. However, it did not mean they have totally different opinion on the definition, and it rather mean they used different words while the core essence was the same. Because of it, you might find several definitions of Rule of Law with different number of principles when you searched for it.

When writing this article, I came across a simple set of principles of Rule of Law which was easy to understand. It was the one used by World Justice Project (WJP) which was an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law worldwide. It included 4 principles namely Accountability, Just Laws, Open Government, and Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution.

Accountability mean the government as well as private actors are accountable under the law, and Just Laws mean the laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights. Open Government is the processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced, are accessible, fair, and efficient. The last principle can be defined as Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

This simple set of principles might still be too much to understand for some people so I tried to further simplify them into two main aspects - having a fair and just legal framework, and properly enforce these frameworks. For the first aspect, having legal framework was not enough. It should be formulated and written in a way that it had equal and fair impact on the people. And it also should be mostly stable for rapidly changing situation. The second aspect was about the enforcement. The laws should be enforced by the concerned persons especially the government in a way that everyone including the enforcers had equal access to the laws and were being treated equally before the laws. There should not be anyone above the law. These two aspects should not be separated or focused on one aspect because they were inseparable for having a genuine Rule of Law situation of a country.

Rule of Law was a simple word; but it was so importance and had so much impact on a country that democracy could not thrive nor survive without it. For a country like Myanmar undergoing democratic transition, it was the most important factor in achieving the goal and all the people living in Myanmar should understand about it and put effort to realize genuine Rule of Law situation in this country.