Crossroads Asia

What Does Rule of Law Look Like in Central Asia?

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Crossroads Asia

What Does Rule of Law Look Like in Central Asia?

Heavy focus on order and security, perhaps more aptly called rule by law.

In the 2015 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, the three Central Asian states included all landed in the bottom half of the rankings. Kazakhstan led, in 65th, with Kyrgyzstan not far behind, at 74th. Uzbekistan was ranked at 81st.

The annual perception-based ranking is based on data from a survey of 1,000 people from the three largest cities in each of the 102 countries included plus input from local experts. WJP’s survey breaks rule of law into eight factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. The organization says that “these factors are intended to reflect how people experience rule of law in everyday life.”

Uzbekistan’s results, in particular, are fascinating for their variety. In the first factor–constraints on government powers–Uzbekistan scored in the bottom three globally. In the survey, this factor measured “the extent to which those who govern are bound by law,” and included non-governmental checks on power such as a free and independent press. Under the order and security factor–which measures “how well the society assures the security of persons and property”–Uzbekistan ranked in the global top five. In open government–which indicates “a government that shares information, empowers people with tools to hold the government accountable, and fosters citizen participation in public policy deliberations”–Uzbekistan finds itself tied with Zimbabwe for last place.

In fact, Uzbekistan scored in the bottom third for every category, except order and security where it scored in the top third, and criminal justice, where it placed in the middle third.

Rule of law is a complex term–meaning different things to different countries. WJP tried to balance a “thin” conception of rule of law, that focuses on formal rules, with a “thick” conception that “includes substantive characteristics, such as self-government and various fundamental rights and freedoms.” Balancing the two ways to approach rule of law allows the Index to rank different types of social and political systems. But:

…the Index recognizes that a system of positive law that fails to respect core human rights guaranteed under international law is at best “rule by law” and does not deserve to be called a rule of law system.

Uzbekistan’s results fall into this gap: a country that certainly has rule by law but does not enjoy the full rule of law.

The report also includes a section outlining whether countries experienced a statistically significant change in any of the individual factors. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan did not. Kazakhstan, however, saw a statistically significant drop in the fundamental rights factor since last year. The fundamental rights factor measures “the protection of fundamental human rights” such as the freedoms of privacy, expression, religion, assembly, and the right to due process.

In the Index’s corresponding report, WJP notes the strengths and limitations of their approach. One of the major strengths is its use of both expert and household surveys. The ranking is not based on international perception of rule of law in each country, but the views of locals on their own governments. One of the limitations, however, is that the data gathered does not, by itself, establish causation–it cannot explain why people ranked each factor as they did–and does not yet take into account rural populations which may have different views on the rule of law away from urban environments. These limitations aside, WJP’s Index goes a long way toward treating rule of law as a quantifiable development indicator.