Rule of Law and Democracy: Addressing the Gap between Policies and Practices in South Sudan

Posted: May 5, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, law, Molana Arop Malook Lual, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Molana Arop Malook Lual, Juba, South Sudan

RSS coat of ARMS

South Sudan’s coat of arms, in which the eagle symbolizes vision, strength, resilience and majesty, and the shield and spear the people’s resolve to protect the sovereignty of their republic and work hard to feed it.

May 5, 2017 (SSB) — The Declaration adopted on 24 September 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly in which South Sudan is a member at the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels reaffirmed that “human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations”. Indeed, government responsiveness to the interests and needs of the greatest number of citizens is strictly associated with the capacity of democratic institutions and processes to bolster the dimensions of rights, equality and accountability.

If considered not solely an instrument of the government but as a rule to which the entire society, including the government, is bound, the rule of law is fundamental in advancing democracy. Strengthening the rule of law has to be approached not only by focusing on the application of norms and procedures. One must also emphasize its fundamental role in protecting rights and advancing inclusiveness, in this way framing the protection of rights within the broader discourse on human development.

A common feature of both democracy and the rule of law is that a purely institutional approach does not say anything about actual outcomes of processes and procedures, even if the latter are formally correct. When addressing the rule of law and democracy nexus, a fundamental distinction has to be drawn between “rule by law”, whereby law is an instrument of government and government is considered above the law, and “rule of law”, which implies that everyone in society is bound by the law, including the government. Essentially, the Transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011 as amended 2015 limits on power, a key feature of democracy, require adherence to the rule of law.

Another key dimension of the rule of law-democracy nexus is the recognition that building democracy and the rule of law may be convergent and mutually reinforcing processes whenever the rule of law is defined in broad, ends-based terms rather than in narrow, formal and exclusively procedural terms. The nexus is strong whenever the rule of law is conceived in its relationship with substantive outcomes, like justice and democratic governance. This distinction is often characterized by resorting to the opposition between “thin” and “thick” conceptions of the rule of law.

Formal and substantive notions are certainly related and some scholars argue against a thin/thick dichotomy, suggesting that, in situations of social and political change, both formal and substantive features of the rule of law may be “thinner” or “thicker”. However, in general terms, a focus on “thin” definitions places emphasis on the procedures through which rules are formulated and applied, whereas “thick” definitions aim to protect rights and frame it within broader human development discourse.

A “thick” definition delineates positively the rule of law as incorporating such elements as a strong constitution, an effective electoral system, a commitment to gender equality, laws for the protection of minorities and other vulnerable groups and a strong civil society. The rule of law, defended by an independent judiciary, plays a crucial function by ensuring that civil and political rights and civil liberties are safe and that the equality and dignity of all citizens are not at risk. It also helps protect the effective performance of the various agencies of electoral, societal and horizontal accountability from potential obstructions and intimidation by powerful State actors.

This “thick” definition of the rule of law differs from “thinner” definitions that place emphasis on the procedures through which rules are formulated and applied. Examples of the tenets within a “thick” definition were provided by the then United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in his 2004 reports on the rule of law. Mr. Annan stressed that, for the United Nations, the rule of law is:

 A principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires as well measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.

Over the years, the United Nations has fostered the rule of law at the international level through the consolidation and development of an international framework of norms and standards, the establishment of international and hybrid courts and tribunals and non-judicial mechanisms.

It has refined its framework for engagement in the rule of law sector at the national level through the provision of assistance in constitution making; the national legal framework; institutions of justice, governance, security and human rights; transitional justice; and the strengthening of civil society. The 2008 Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Approach to Rule of Law Assistance provided overarching principles and a framework for guiding United Nations rule of law activities at the national level.

A practical example of the importance of the rule of law for democracy building is the fact that the rule of law is a fundamental principle embraced in most modern democracies. Constitutions contain the fundamental and, most often, supreme law of the State, and the rule of law dictates the enforcement of those principles above all other laws.

Constitutions also preserve fundamental principles and values by making the process of amendment burdensome. Some constitutions ensure the permanence of certain principles and values by prohibiting amendments. The judiciary, which applies the law to individual cases, acts as the guardian of the rule of law. Thus, an independent and properly functioning judiciary is a prerequisite for the rule of law which requires a just legal system, the right to a fair hearing and access to justice.

Constitutions do much more than establish a government and regulate its relationships with citizens. In many countries, they have also become crisis management tools. The benefits of constitutions designed for conflict-affected and deeply divided States hinge on their ability to reconcile groups, to address intolerable grievances and to prevent further polarization and conflict deterioration.

Also in this area, national ownership is of the utmost importance. The choice of process should be left to national constitution builders who are able to prevail in the local context. Constitutional design suited to the requirements of managing conflict has had some degree of success. At the same time, other factors such as economic inequality are increasingly important determinants in new demands for constitution building.

During negotiations on the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rule of Law, some Member States referred to the need for the international community to assist and support countries emerging from conflict or undergoing democratization, upon their request, as they may face special challenges in addressing legacies of human rights violations during their transition and in moving towards democratic governance and the rule of law.

The concept was eventually reformulated by referring only to the special challenges of transitions with no mention of democratization. However, this debate has shown a growing awareness of the importance of building on the experience over the last 30 years, particularly from the Global South, of multiple and often simultaneous transitions—from war to peace, from command to market economies, from autocratic to democratic systems—to support home-grown democratization processes.

The South Sudan rules of law is provides for under the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011 as amended 2015 under the implementation of Judiciary, Public Prosecution Attorney, Police and Parliament who is the oversee of the government Institutions. However, in order to have effective rule of law there must be an independence of the aforesaid institution above.

The Writer is a City Lawyer based in Juba and can be reach on email:

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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