Global Decline in Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish, Study Finds

by Vins

A 2018 survey conducted in response to global concerns about rising authoritarianism and nationalism shows a major decrease in nations adhering to basic human rights. As the Guardian reported, the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for 2017-2018 examined legal systems around the world by documenting and comparing the experiences of 110,000 households and 3,000 experts. The WJP’s Index tabulated these results to produce scores for eight different categories, including constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, regulatory enforcement, and civil justice, providing an overview of changes in the rule of law since its previous Index was published in October, 2016.

In summarizing the WJP’s findings, the Guardian’s report quoted Samuel Moyn a professor of law and history at Yale University: “All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement. Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning.”

Since 2016, when the previous WJP Rule of Law Index was published, overall rule of law scores declined in 38 countries, with the greatest declines in the category of fundamental rights, which measures absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labor rights. From 2016 to 2018, 71 countries out of 113 dropped in this category. Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped).

Among nations, the Philippines saw the greatest decline in overall rule of law, falling 18 positions to 88th out of 113 countries overall, based on significant drops in constraints on government powers, fundamental rights, order and security, and criminal justice. As the Guardian reported, “President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has put a ‘palpable strain upon established countervailing institutions of society’, according to Jose Luis Martin Gascon, chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.” Gascon described a “chilling effect” on the country’s opposition after attacks on public figures who have criticized Duterte’s policies.

Three countries—Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka—improved in the overall rule of law rankings from 2016 by nine positions, according to the WJP’s report.

The Guardian noted that the US ranked just 19th out of the 35 countries classified as “high-income” in the report. In the fundamental rights category, the US fell five places to 26th overall as a result of “worsening levels of discrimination and due process of law plus decreased guarantees of the right to life.”

As of March, 2018, US corporate media appear not to have reported on the WPJ’s 2018 Rule of Law Index.

Source: Will Bordell and Jon Robins, “’A Crisis for Human Rights’: New Index Reveals Global Fall in Basic Justice,” The Guardian, January 31, 2018,

Student Researcher: Kyle Zucker (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)