Rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.
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Judiciaries around the world participate in a broad range of efforts to promote the rule of law. Judges and court personnel share their expertise through initiatives funded by governments, international organizations, and non-governmental institutions. This multifaceted work addresses judicial independence, case management, court administration, professional ethics, and many other procedural and substantive areas.

The modern “international rule of law” movement began in the aftermath of World War II. In the 1960s and 70s, political scientists, lawyers, and activists worked to study and implement rule-of-law programs. This movement accelerated during the 1990s to include support for constitution and legislation drafting, legal and civics education, along with electoral and institutional modernization.

Although rule-of-law reform is most often discussed as a requisite task for emerging democracies, all countries work to improve the efficiency of their justice sectors. Similarly, no nation is immune from threats to “rule by law” and institutional backsliding. The rule of law is a shared aspiration and vulnerability. And rule-of-law reform efforts often bear fruit slowly, or not at all.

The materials in this section include information and resources about international rule of law efforts, focusing on work with the courts.

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International Development

Many nations provide financial and technical support for international rule of law, with judicial reform part of their governance, democracy, and human rights portfolios. In the United States this work is implemented through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department. Other national development agencies include the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the German Agency for International Cooperation, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Swedish International Development Agency. The European Union supports rule-of-law programs primarily through grants administered by the European Commission’s department of external action.

United States

The United States supports rule of law initiatives throughout the world. This resource describes the government agencies that support justice sector development, the process for allocating public funds, and the public and private institutions engaged with project implementation.

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Reform Initiatives