Editorial - Oct/Nov 2019

James Lewis

When the US President is facing an impeachment investigation; when the UK Prime Minister is found to have acted unlawfully by 11 justices of the Supreme Court and says they were wrong; when Russia and Saudi Arabia remain unaccountable for extrajudicial killings in the UK and Turkey and for their role in two of the worst humanitarian crises the world is currently facing in Syria and Yemen, there can be no doubt that the rule of law is under severe threat.

If an organisation like the International Bar Association didn’t exist, it would need to be created. Since 1947, the IBA has, as a key part of its founding principles, promoted ‘justice under the rule of law among the peoples of the world’ and ‘the principles and aims of the United Nations’. The date of the IBA’s founding is significant, of course, coming directly after two world wars – a period of enormous disruption and loss of life. The world’s response was to form cooperative international organisations such as the UN to ensure it never happened again.

The cover feature of this edition (‘The rise and rise of national populism’) highlights the extent to which recent events have formed fertile ground from which such leaders can galvanise support. ‘Populist leaders, including Donald Trump, are often effective at detecting and channelling legitimate public grievances,’ says one of the experts quoted.

‘In the United States, these related to economic displacement.’ The fallout of the global banking crisis has been devastating. These populist leaders also pursue policies and enact legislation that is inimical to the rule of law. The global migration crisis has made refugees particularly vulnerable, freedom of expression is also targeted, as is independence of the judiciary.

As these threats mount, it’s welcome that the US Congress and UK Supreme Court are stepping up to reassert the primacy of rule of law (‘UK Supreme Court: unanimous and unequivocal in righting rule of law wrongs’). This is all the more significant as these are not simply two states of many, but permanent members of the UN Security Council. Their role in international affairs is essential and, as both appear to be abrogating their responsibilities at such a crucial time, re-establishing their moral leadership is paramount. As the UN struggles to hold powerful states like Russia and Saudi to account, it must also be time to look afresh at breaking the shackles of the dysfunctional Security Council veto, empowering the UN to effectively uphold the rule of law and prevent the further escalation of abhorrent humanitarian crises in Yemen, in Syria and elsewhere.

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