Rule of Law

The USA State Department has compiled a one page primer on the different principles of democracy. These are: What is Democracy; Majority Rule, Minority Rights; Political Parties; A Free Press; Rule of Law; Human Rights ; and etc. Rule of Law pasted below is one of them.

There seems to be no common understanding within the liberal democratic Eritrean opposition of the concept of the Rule Of Law.

I strongly believe that this confusion has been one of the most stumbling blocks in advancing the cause of liberty in Eritrea. A case in point is the outright rejection of the Eritrean ratified constitution by some in the Diaspora without considering its superb stand on civil liberties, and others are not embarrassed to state publicly that there is the rule of law in Eritrea under the PFDJ rule. What a confusion!

One wonders how these people imagine to create a coalition of liberal democratic opposition with the Eritrean people inside Eritrea -- the decisive force in any dismantling of the  authoritarian system back home. Their writings and mastery of the English language, though very admirable, should not fool us.

It is necessary to note that: "Democratic governments exercise authority by way of law and are themselves subject to law's constraints." And thus,  it is crucial to have an adequate understanding of the rule of law, this applies in particular to those who present themselves to us as opinion makers and shakers in the Eritrean liberal democratic opposition arena.

For those who have the time and patience, and who are interested in mastering  this concept --  of the rule of law and its historical development and its impact on the prosperity  or poverty of a nation --  I recommend the following must read books: (1) Why Nations Fail; by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson ; (2) The Origins of Political Order; by Francis Fukuyama.

It is my sincere belief that this one page note written by experts on the subject may help us have a better grasp of the concept of the rule of law.

Abraham G. Ghiorgis
New York

Rule of Law

06 May 2008

(The following one-pager is taken from the U.S. Department of State publication, Principles of Democracy.)

Rule of Law

For much of human history, rulers and law were synonymous – law was simply the will of the ruler. A first step away from such tyranny was the notion of rule by law, including the notion that even a ruler is under the law and should rule by virtue of legal means. Democracies went further by establishing the rule of law. Although no society or government system is problem-free, rule of law protects fundamental political, social, and economic rights and reminds us that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only alternatives.

  • Rule of law means that no individual, president or private citizen, stands above law. Democratic governments exercise authority by way of law and are themselves subject to law's constraints.
  • Laws should express the will of the people, not the whims of kings, dictators, military officials, religious leaders, or self-appointed political parties.
  • Citizens in democracies are willing to obey the laws of their society, then, because they are submitting to their own rules and regulations. Justice is best achieved when the laws are established by the very people who must obey them.
  • Under the rule of law, a system of strong, independent courts should have the power and authority, resources, and the prestige to hold government officials, even top leaders, accountable to the nation's laws and regulations.
  • For this reason, judges should be well trained, professional, independent, and impartial. To serve their necessary role in the legal and political system, judges must be committed to the principles of democracy.
  • The laws of a democracy may have many sources: written constitutions; statutes and regulations; religious and ethical teachings; and cultural traditions and practices. Regardless of origin the law should enshrine certain provisions to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens:
  • Under the requirement of equal protection under the law, the law may not be uniquely applicable to any single individual or group.
  • Citizens must be secure from arbitrary arrest and unreasonable search of their homes or the seizure of their personal property.
  • Citizens charged with crimes are entitled to a speedy and public trial, along with the opportunity to confront and question their accusers. If convicted, they may not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.
  • Citizens cannot be forced to testify against themselves. This principle protects citizens from coercion, abuse, or torture and greatly reduces the temptation of police to employ such measures.

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