Asia gets mixed marks amid ‘global rule of law recession’

Cambodia, Myanmar among the world’s worst jurisdictions for the rule of law, new report says.
Alex Willemyns
2022.10.26
Washington
Asia gets mixed marks amid ‘global rule of law recession’ Police use cordon tape to control crowds in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on June 4, 2022, near the venue where Hong Kong people have traditionally gathered to mourn victims of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, on the 33rd anniversary of the event. Authorities sought to stop any public commemoration of the Tiananmen anniversary, with police warning that gatherings could break the law.
Credit: AFP

South Korea has overtaken Hong Kong in terms of adherence to the rule of law, according to a new report, and now falls just short of Asia’s best-ranked jurisdictions, Japan and Singapore, but still far ahead of regional laggards China, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Myanmar and Cambodia, meanwhile, remain mired in the bottom 10 of 140 countries, with Cambodia ahead of only last-place Venezuela amid what the report’s authors call a “global rule of law recession.”

“Globally, 4.4 billion people live in countries where rule of law has declined over the past year,” the World Justice Project says in its 2022 Rule of Law Index. It notes that “adherence to the rule of law fell in 61% of countries this year” for a fifth-straight year of global decline.

The index is built using surveys the Washington-based watchdog says were completed by more than 150,000 people, including experts and regular citizens. The group says it measures eight factors: constraints on government power, corruption, open government, rights, order and security, regulatory environment, civil justice and criminal justice.

For the second-straight year, Denmark and Norway topped the index, with scores of 90 and 89 out of a possible 100, followed closely by Finland (87) and Sweden (86), who traded places since last year, and the Netherlands, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Germany (all 83).

But the story is not so rosy elsewhere.

In Asia, Japan (79) and Singapore (78) top the index, in the 16th and 17th places overall, with South Korea (73), in 19th place, now ahead of Hong Kong (73) in 22nd place. But the next best is 55th-placed Malaysia (with a score of 57), followed by Mongolia (54), Indonesia (53), Thailand (50), Vietnam (49), China and the Philippines (47).

Languishing in the bottom 10 is ninth-worst Myanmar (36) and Cambodia (31), which ranks ahead of only last-place Venezuela (26).

The report notes the rule of law score decreased in Myanmar by 7.7% since last year, as well as by 2.8% in Hong Kong, 2% in Cambodia and less than 1% in China. Vietnam, it notes, was among a minority to improve, having increased its score by less than 1% since 2021.

While the speed of the declines has slowed since the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a rise of authoritarianism and political violence means rule of law “has continued to crumble,” Alejandro Ponce, chief research officer at the World Justice Project, says in the report.

“Together, these circumstances reflect the weakening of institutional mechanisms needed to uphold accountability, to ensure the just enforcement of laws, and to protect human rights,” Ponce says, calling for leaders to do more “to prevent the arbitrary exercise of power.” 

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