Advancing the Rule of Law after Humanitarian Intervention

On 9 May 2016, the Model Hague Peace Conference invited Dr. Geoffrey Swenson to give a guest lecture for their masterclass series. Dr. Swenson’s presentation concentrated on reestablishing the rule of law in the wake of humanitarian intervention. He highlighted the tough choices facing both domestic and international policymakers, while at the same time stressing that progress was possible in even the most challenging environments. He noted “Even in the most challenging situations, such as Syria, humanitarian interventions hold promise. At the same time, interventions need not only an end point, but also a compelling, credible vision for a peaceful society.”

The international community needs to ensure that promoting the rule of law does not amount to little more than lip service. Swenson highlighted that “even under favorable circumstances, it takes decades for the rule of law to consolidate. Thus, it is essential that the international community makes a serious commitment to promoting the rule of law not just in the days following the initial intervention, but in the years that follow.” The key element is that state officials and the international community share a normative commitment to the rule of law to help institutionalize a rule of law culture. Ordinary citizens and high-level government officials alike must be bound by the law even in instances where illegality might seem more expedient than following the law.

The key element is that state officials and the international community share a normative commitment to the rule of law to help institutionalize a rule of law culture.

The rule of law is not merely the province of technocrats. It requires strong and consistent application of standards of accountability in practice, particularly with regard to the executive branch, as well as a competent, independent, and fair judiciary. Meaningful competition among political parties and a transparent and democratically responsive electoral system is also necessary in order to ensure fair and balanced mobilization and representation of diverse societal interests.

Dr. Swenson concluded with the point that while institutions mattered, far more is required. Societal respect for the law largely hinges on the broad social belief that the law and governing institutions are, at their core, basically fair and legitimate.

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