I drove down to Williamsburg, Virginia yesterday to lecture at the William and Mary Law School on law reform in countries emerging from war. The primary focus was to be the Model Codes for Post-Conflict Criminal Justice and the experiences and consultations that led to their development. I discussed law reform and working overseas to promote rule of law. But in light of current events in places including Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, I briefly went into another area.
Okay, so now comes my gardening connection: I branched out a bit to discuss the roots of the rule of law. I wanted to plant a few seeds and hope that the law students would cultivate and promote their growth throughout their careers. To help safeguard rule of law in our country and for those working overseas, to help promote it abroad. Specifically, sometimes as lawyers, we lose the forest for the trees. We focus upon the details, the technical aspects of the law. This especially happens when we work in countries emerging from war and think we can come in and pass a few laws, train a few judges and all will be well. But all too often, the very ground upon which we are building, is damaged. The soil, so to speak, simply does not support any growth whatsoever. What nutrients are missing in the soil? Well, among other things, from my experiences, it is the basic components of rule of law. What are those components? It is about the relationships in society, the values that the society holds and upholds. That the power relationships are balanced and that no matter who you are or what position you hold in society, you will be treated equally and fairly. A level of trust and legitimacy is required by everyone involved from the government to the citizens to the security forces. Without these in place, and trust established, a society will continue to be stuck in a cycle of violence. There will be no peace.
Being in Virginia now, and then having been in Charlottesville last month for an international law symposium on national security at the University of Virginia School of Law (UVA), I have been really into Thomas Jefferson (who founded UVA), as well as the experiences of our own country as it was created and struggled through the revolutionary and civil wars that have formed a large part of who we are. I found one of his quotes particularly relevant to this discussion and current events around the world:
“No nation however powerful, any more than an individual, can be unjust with impunity. Sooner or later, public opinion, an instrument merely moral in the beginning, will find occasion physically to inflict its sentences on the unjust… The lesson is useful to the weak as well as the strong.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1804.