Global Rule of Law Declines During Pandemic, Study Shows

The rule of law has deteriorated around the world over the course the pandemic, worsening yearslong negative trends in civil and criminal justice, discrimination, government consolidation of power and corruption, a new study shows. Although these negative trends were most concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and the European Union, European Free Trade Association and North America, declines in rule of law persisted in every region of the world — including Latin America.

The study — conducted by the World Justice Project, an international civil society organization — reveals that governments around the world have used the pandemic to tighten restrictions on the freedoms and protections of its citizens. It surveyed 38,000 households and 4,200 legal practitioners and experts in 139 countries and measured the rule of law across eight factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice.

Venezuela ranked the lowest on the index worldwide, experiencing a 1.5% decrease in its score since last year — in line with crackdowns on freedom of speech and expression that have persisted in the nation for years. The government used the pandemic to further those crackdowns, arresting and detaining Iván Virgüez, a 65-year-old lawyer and president of a local human rights group, in April of 2020 after he accused national and local governments on social media of mishandling the pandemic and causing fuel shortages, according to Human Rights Watch.

Beyond Venezuela, this year’s rankings revealed Argentina experienced the most dramatic decline in rule of law in Latin America — tying with Nigeria, Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan for the third-largest decline worldwide, following behind Belarus and Myanmar. Argentina‘s steep decline in its adherence to the rule of law follows new pandemic-era restrictions in the country — imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world for over six months and enacting police violence on those who did not comply with quarantine measures — making young people from marginalized communities particularly vulnerable, reports Freedom House.

[MORE: 10 Most Politically Stable Countries, Ranked by Perception]

Some of the world’s superpowers also saw notable declines in their rule of law scores this year. The United States came in at 27th place for its rule of law score this year, six places below its 2020 ranking, after a year characterized by the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol and partisan divide. Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed his 2020 election defeat was the result of voter fraud, an assertion rebuked by Republican state election officials. A U.S. Senate report released earlier this month chronicled Trump’s extraordinary efforts to overturn current President Joe Biden’s victory.

Russia, similarly, dropped from No. 94 in 2020 to 101 this year on the worldwide index, with China following suit, declining from No. 88 to No. 98 over the pandemic year.

The only countries to improve in their rule of law scores in Latin America since the onset of the pandemic were Bolivia and Uruguay.

At the top of the index worldwide were Denmark, Norway and Finland. Across Latin America, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile led the region.

WJP CEO and co-founder Bill Neukom says that this year’s rankings should be a “wake-up call” for the world.

“Rule of Law is the very foundation of communities of justice, opportunity and peace,” he said. “Reinforcing that foundation should be a top priority for the coming period of recovery from the pandemic.”

More from U.S. News

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