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The Rule of Law Collaborative plays an innovative and leading role in the development of the rapidly evolving field of rule of law studies.

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Featured Publications

Investing in Authoritarian Rule: Punishment and Patronage in Rwanda's Gacaca Courts for Genocide Crimes (Anu Chakravarty, December 2015)

Dr. Anu Chakravarty, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of South Carolina and ROLC Faculty Associate, recently published “Investing in Authoritarian Rule: Punishment and Patronage in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts for Genocide Crimes,” a book that takes an in-depth look at Rwanda’s gacaca tribunals and their role in shaping the relationship between the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government and Rwandan society. Chakravarty’s research focuses on institutions and behavior in conflict and post-conflict situations, particularly in East-central Africa and South Asia. She specializes in designing research and collecting and managing data through fieldwork in high-risk research environments. She spent roughly eighteen months in Rwanda conducting research for the book, collecting data from urban and rural areas in the North, South, East, and West of the country.

The book takes an in-depth look at the incentives behind Rwandans’ willingness to volunteer their service in the gacaca tribunals. After the conclusion of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the Tutsi-controlled RPF took control of the government. Chakravarty argues that the Hutu majority of the Rwandan population viewed the RPF as lacking in the moral authority to govern because of its record of unaccounted-for war crimes, yet many Hutus agreed to serve in the government-organized gacaca tribunals, often without compensation. Chakravarty’s book explores this paradox, seeking to uncover the incentives that many Rwandans had for serving in the tribunals.

The gacaca tribunals were developed in the wake of the Rwandan genocide as a type of community justice on a massive scale. Faced with a substantial portion of the population accused of genocide, Rwanda was not equipped to meet the staggering demand for justice. In response to this challenge, the RPF government created the gacaca tribunals, which allowed for the local citizenry to try the accused in local, community settings. The gacaca tribunals were largely successful in processing the immense caseload: with over twelve thousand gacaca tribunals established across Rwanda and over one million cases tried, the Rwandan government touted the gacaca system for its efficiency and low costs. Furthermore, the gacaca tribunals were to some extent met with positive attitudes by the Rwandan people who were able to participate directly. For many, the gacaca tribunals provided a sense of closure, forgiveness, or justice for the atrocities committed during the genocide.

Based on the data she collected through her fieldwork, Chakravarty argues that the gacaca tribunals served to bolster authoritarian rule in Rwanda by creating a network of clientelism, a tradition of patronage that she argues can be traced back to the introduction of Christianity to Rwanda, at which time missionaries would dole out rewards in return for allegiance. She argues that in Rwanda, where there is a long history of clientelism, the population understands that demonstrating loyalty to authority figures reaps long-term benefits. For those whose served as unpaid judges, the gacaca tribunals offered an opportunity to gain standing and power in the local community through volunteer service, in some cases leading to subsequent employment in local government. Those who confessed were allowed reduced punishments, and an opportunity to reintegrate into their communities. Those who denounced others in these courts got a chance to heal emotionally by confronting the accused, or to access a range of other private illicit benefits, such as gaining the upper hand in inter-personal struggles and property disputes that were unrelated to the genocide. Chakravarty argues that the gacaca tribunals ultimately encouraged the population to accommodate the RFRPF government by participating en masse, bolstering the authoritarian regime in the long run.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Beyond Access: The Administration of Justice for Women in Uganda (Aparna Polavarapu, October 2015)

Beyond Access: The Administration of Justice for Women in Uganda explores a core—and often unexplored—question of access to justice through the lens of a single country. The specific research question presented here looks to the Ugandan court system and asks whether women and men are equally able to obtain justice, if at all, once they arrive in court, either in the civil or criminal context. Conversations about the interaction between the justice system and Ugandan citizens, particularly those citizens who are marginalized in one way or another, tend to focus on well-documented obstacles to access, which include, inter alia, prohibitive costs, physical inaccessibility, inadequate court structures, and social stigma. Many interventions designed to ensure sex equality in the justice system focus on improving the substantive laws and training judicial officers to administer justice fairly and equally. The implicit assumption—both in Uganda and elsewhere—is that if the problems of access are overcome, the laws are good and the judges are well-trained and fair, court users can obtain justice. This project takes the important next step of questioning what obstacles court users face once they actually find themselves in the court system.

The research consisted of semi-structured qualitative interviews conducted both in-person and by phone and Skype. Interviewees included magistrates, judges, court users, prisoners, legal services providers, state attorneys and prosecutors, and other government officials with knowledge of the courts and justice system. In all, 86 in-country interviews were conducted in the Northern, Central, and Eastern regions of Uganda. This regional distribution reflects a focus on removing risks of geographical bias.

The research revealed that a number of obstacles prevent both men and women from obtaining justice in courts, although women, due to their socioeconomic position, tend to suffer the weight of such obstacles more heavily than men. Key factors undermining the administration of justice include difficulties executing judgments, language barriers, and corruption throughout the judiciary.

Even when a woman receives a favorable judgment in court, an inability to execute that judgment completely undermines whatever justice she has received. Executing a civil judgment can prove near impossible in certain cases, especially those involving (1) land allocation against family, clan, or community norms, or (2) child maintenance. In the land context, plaintiffs seeking to exercise a right to land in direct opposition to customs are most often female heirs. The options available to these women—securing the assistance of a court bailiff, magistrate, or legal services attorney—are often too expensive, unavailable, or sometimes ineffective regardless. Women also file a large number of child maintenance cases, which raise similar execution problems. Many men are difficult to track down and work in the informal economy, making their wages easy to hide from the law.

The language barrier is another extremely difficult problem to overcome. There are 41 living languages in Uganda, and the language of the courts is English. Within the capital city of Kampala, this presents less of a problem because most people who don't speak English speak Luganda, for which there are a large number of effective interpreters. Elsewhere in the country, though, this language barrier can and has led to miscommunication between judicial officers and court users, sometimes leading to rulings based on the wrong facts. In its attempt to mitigate the corruption problem in the court, judiciary policy calls for the transfer of magistrates and judges at least once every three years. However, this means judges and magistrates are often assigned to areas where they don't speak the local language, and where interpreters are inadequate in both colloquial and legal English. Corruption among clerks, who are often tasked to serve as interpreters, sometimes leads to purposeful misinterpretation.

Corruption in the Ugandan judiciary is also a heavily documented phenomenon, and has spurred a number of anti-corruption measures supported by the Ugandan government and international community. However, at least one of those measures—the frequent transfer of judges and magistrates—has other negative effects on the administration of justice. Additionally, corruption is still what all actors engaged with legal system cite first as the key problem preventing the administration of justice. While some courts are cited as treating women worse because they are often poorer and less able to afford bribes, others are considered to engage in a fairer form of corruption. That is, the bribe requested is often calibrated to the amount the person can afford. Regardless, the prevalence of corruption remains a large spoiler of the administration of justice on its own, and also in conjunction with the difficulties in execution and the language barrier.

In addition to the inadequacy of judgment execution, language barriers, and corruption, women also face more case-specific problems, which are elaborated further in the complete report. Ultimately, this research presents a first step towards examining the full extent to which justice is or is not delivered when looking beyond the traditional foci of access, substantive law, and judicial training.

Women's Education, Empowerment, and Human Rights Education: The Mahila Samakhya Program in Gujarat, India (Payal Shah, October 2015)

Women's Education, Empowerment, and Human Rights Education: The Mahila Samakhya Program in Gujarat, Indiainvestigates how the Mahila Samakhya (MS) program provides girls and women education in the western state of Gujarat, India. A country of great social stratification, India suffers from a severe marginalization of women that cuts across caste, class, and geographic boundaries. I seek to gain an understanding of whether, and if so how, MS initiatives are effectively promoting empowerment for marginalized Indian women. Embedded within each of the core strategies of the MS program is a rights-based approach to empowerment where basic human rights are stressed as a requisite for empowerment, a concept that is central to a robust rule of law. Thus, I seek to investigate what support mechanisms the MS program provides to help women gain the knowledge and skills they need to engage with the formal and non-formal political and legal systems in Gujarat.

The Government of India launched the MS program in 1989 in pursuance of the goals of the 1986 national Education Policy. The guiding principle of the program is the centrality of education in empowering women to achieve basic equality and contribute to poverty alleviation. The MS program redefines education as an enabling and empowering tool and a process that enables women to "think critically, to question, to analyze their own condition, to demand and acquire the information and skills they need to enable them to plan and act collectively for change." The goal was to create independent sanghas to help females initiate and sustain social change processes to move from beyond marginalization towards collective action.

The MS program is a government-organized nongovernmental organization, or GONGO, funded by yet autonomous from the Ministry of Education. This structure is significant, as the MS program has the resources and scope to work with large numbers of women and girls to promote concrete gender-oriented social change. The international development community, led by the World Bank, IMF, and various UN organizations, identifies promoting women's empowerment as a primary strategy to alleviate gender inequality, and the UN Millennium Development Goals identify education as a key institution in promoting women's empowerment. The MS program reflects this international consensus on the importance of education in empowering women and transforming societies and provides an interesting case to examine the nexus of empowerment and education for Indian females.

Structured as a collective, the sanghas focus primarily on helping women examine the roots of their marginalization and providing them with support to gain awareness of and mobilize their rights. Most sanghas take a multi-pronged approach and focus on seven major strategies, all of which echo lessons learned about building a strong rule of law:

  1. Girls' education: providing them access but also restructuring the curriculum so that it addresses empowerment
  2. Women's education: basic literacy and numeracy
  3. Health: focusing on the link between women and health/nutrition
  4. Livelihood issues: economic strategies including savings and credit, access to government programs and resources, and natural resource management literacy
  5. Participation in local governance: gaining elected positions and playing an effective role in the local (panchayat raj) political system, including training for women on procedures, roles, functions, and resources available for elected officials
  6. Delivery of government services: providing women information on available services and providing them support to access and ensure the delivery of such services, e.g., midwives, health clinics, teachers, and agricultural subsidies

Articulating and addressing social issues: highlighting issues such as alcoholism, domestic violence, child marriage, property rights, and other non-formal traditions and practices that discriminate against women, a strategy that has led to the formation of women's courts (Nari Adalats) as a socially recognized and effective forum to help women engage with the legal system

I have completed a literature review of how the academic and development fields have conceptualized the MS program. My fieldwork in Gujarat has included in-depth interviews with the director of the MS Gujarat program, interviews with grassroots level program managers, as well as observations of sangha meetings (sanghas are collectives of women and girls), educational program meetings, MS-run schools, and meetings related to sangha governance. Preliminary insights include the identification of challenges related to the ability of the MS programs to provide opportunities for low-caste women to participate in governance, girls being able to exercise their agency in an extremely restrictive socio-cultural context, and the sustainability of MS programs, as the current director will soon be leaving. In future research, I hope to spend more time in the field interviewing new and old participants of MS programs, as well as men whose wives or daughters are involved in the program, to gain their perspective.

Islamic Law, Customary Law and Afghan Informal Justice (Hamid M. Khan, March 2015)

"Islamic Law, Customary Law and Afghan Informal Justice" is the outcome of a study commissioned in 2011 by the United States Institute of Peace and the Afghanistan-based Peace Training and Research Organization. It is a multi-province study aimed at better understanding the relationship between Islamic law and Afghan informal justice systems, with emphasis on women's status. The report is particularly concerned with Pashtun informal justice (Pashtunwali), as Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in the country.

In this study, Khan finds that, while scholars of Islamic law (ulama) command respect across many Afghan settings, customary law generally takes precedence. Whereas Islamic law grants women individual rights, customary law emphasizes the well-being of the community, often at the expense of women's individual rights. This is particularly the case with respect to women's rights related to marriage, divorce, property, and inheritance. Islamic law grants women rights in these areas, but Pashtunwali customary standards routinely deprive women of most of those rights. Women fighting to claim those rights then risk becoming social outcasts.

Khan also finds that Islamic law is a potential source of individual rights for Afghans and commands respect and authority that the national legal system lacks. Ulama, however, often lack adequate training in Islamic law, and this undermines their legitimacy. Khan recommends the establishment of programs to train ulama in Islamic law while also guaranteeing independence from the state. Finally, Khan argues that Islamic leaders inside and outside of Afghanistan should make greater use of Islamic concepts such as karamah (human dignity) to link the Islamic tradition to the Pashtunwali concept of honor, and serve as a basis for individual rights for all.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Corruption and NGO Sustainability: A Panel Study of the Post-Communist States (Brad Epperly and Taedong Lee, February 2015)

In "Corruption and NGO Sustainability: A Panel Study of the Post-Communist States," Rule of Law Collaborative faculty associate Brad Epperly and Taedong Lee explore the effects of corruption on the environment for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in post-communist states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Individuals living under corrupt governments are reluctant to seek help through official avenues and often rely on self-help, but in this study Epperly and Lee explore how corruption affects the local environment for NGOs. Epperly and Lee expect to find that corruption is associated with weaker legal environments and financial viability for NGOs. However, they also expect to find that corruption has little effect on the success of NGO advocacy and organizations supportive of NGOs. They conclude that corruption is strongly associated with low levels of NGO sustainability.

NGOs are important, because they (1) act as a liaison between citizens and government; (2) build trust among citizens, which has a positive effect on society; and (3) provide local services to citizens, which their governments may not provide or may provide inadequately. The contribution NGOs offer to countries that face corruption can be a critical starting point in eradicating the corruption in those particular countries, but corruption is likely to degrade the legal environment and financial growth of NGOs.

NGO development in post-communist states has been inconsistent, and there is a lack of literature in this area. In order to determine the strength of the NGO sector for this study, the authors consider the level of corruption found in the states in which NGOs operate. The authors refer to USAID's NGO Sustainability Index to explain the conditions that must exist in order for NGOs to operate effectively. These conditions are referred to as "NGO viability." NGO viability is measured in two broad categories: environment (sub-categories include legal rights, financial conditions, public awareness of NGOs, and organizations supportive of NGO activities) and activities (sub-categories include success of NGO advocacy, organizational capacity, and provision of NGO services for their constituents).
Using data from the NGO Sustainability Index, the authors compare each sub-category against the levels of corruption as reported by Freedom House Nations in Transit. Epperly and Lee conclude that lower levels of corruption and higher levels of democracy are associated with better local environments for NGOs. The data show that foreign aid or a country's status as a European Union (EU) candidate or member does not have a significant relationship with that country's NGO environment. This finding is critical, as most scholars contend that foreign aid contributes to a conducive environment for NGOs. The authors suggest that this finding "calls into question the validity of 'Europeanization,'" which argues that "the EU accession process has a positive effect on Eastern Europe."

The authors' expectation that corruption has a strong effect on legal environments and financial viability of NGOs is supported by the data. The data also show that although poorer countries find it difficult to sustain NGOs, due to a lack of funding, these countries are as equipped as wealthier countries to establish a legal environment conducive to NGOs.
The results of the study also support that corruption has little effect on the success of NGO advocacy and organizations supportive of NGOs, with the exception of one sub-category: the effect of corruption on public image is proportional to the effect corruption has on the legal environment. One explanation for this trend is that, because society loses trust in corrupt government, society also will lose trust in other public organizations, because ordinary citizens may perceive public organizations as an extension of the government.

Epperly and Lee suggest that poorer countries seeking to sustain NGOs can start by creating a more conducive legal environment, as little money is required to do so. Anti-corruption campaigns may also be helpful if their goal is tied to helping NGOs and not political gain.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).