Rule of Law-dee-dah

by Asher Kohn on 1/21/2010 · 1 comment

I was a bit into writing an entirely different post about the concept of “Rule of Law” when I stumbled into Erica Marat’s Twittercast of Freedom House’s new rankings. Kyrgyzstan has been dropped, joining the rest of Central Asia as Unfree. One of her tweets said, “Rule of law, civil society & freedom of the press have been under attack across the world” and I just blinked for a moment. One of these things is not like the other. You will never hear me argue against Civil Society or Freedom of Press. Rule of Law, however, is a whole lot more subjective.

In states that are hardly a decade into their existences, borne of a polyjudicial background of Communism, Sharia, and Locality, the Rule of Law is simply the rule of leaders. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert, but I will assert that those years, mostly under the same people who were there in 1991, aren’t enough to hammer out a system that your average legal scholar will be content with. Especially when those same leaders have more pressing issues, from their own perspective.

Take Kazakhstan. Arguably the most economically successful state in the region, their energy laws are the stuff that McMansions are made of (which is not a coincidence). The Caspian Fields have given Nazarbayev legitimacy and power. Those laws have made Kazakhstan more than just a joke. But their human rights law? Maybe a younger Zhovtis could say it better than I:

Defining the status of basic human rights and freedoms, it should be noted that in general the theory and practice of legal regulation still follows the Soviet model….We have neither the tradition nor the current practice of political debates over proposed legislation that concern basic human rights and freedoms…Such practice deprives citizens of any opportunity to have their say in passing laws, and denies political parties and movements and other public organizations any influence on public opinion with regard to government legislative projects.

If you were a sharp lawyer in 90’s Kazakhstan, you are making a living in the energy sector, no doubt about that. Oh, and read that whole speech, it’s well worth your time.

And apologies for leaning too heavily on NewEurasia here, but it seems that there are (at least) two narratives for how to make a better Kazakhstan. There is the plea for improved human rights and individual rights. At the same time, there are questions of how to make better Kazakh patriots.

Civil Society and Freedom of the Press are not part and parcel of Rule of Law. Kazakhstan does at least have a Transparency International presence. If you want to argue about Democracy, then that’s a whole other argument that Richard Luger would love to have. Law has nothing to do with it.

The Rule of Law exists in Kazakhstan…the other countries are worthy of their own posts. But I think it’s telling that there’s no Luger arguing for a Twitter Revolution in Almaty, there’s no shadow justice system raging against the state’s monopoly on justice. There’s a popular demand to change the laws and to stem corruption. Whether Civil Society and Freedom of Press gain a further foothold is is dependent on what the Rule of Law is, not on whether that rule is rising or falling.


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This post was written by...

– author of 33 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Asher is currently in law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is studying natural resource law in Central Asia and its intersection with different theories of jurisprudence. Besides Registan.net, Asher has written for The Los Angeles Times, Run of Play, İstanbul Altı, and Istanbul Eats. He has worked with the Natural Resource Law Center and the International Crisis Group, where he studied legal and political traction over a variety of issues.

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{ 1 comment }

Dafydd January 22, 2010 at 9:11 am

“Rule of Law” is the idea that the same laws apply equally to all.

Is that really the case in Kazakhstan? Do friends of the regime ever get convicted without falling out? (As Ken Lay did).

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