The Rule of Law

In what can be considered an unprecedented opinion-piece in the New York Times, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates raises a most serious concern: That the President of the United States is attempting to dismantle the rule of law. I don't know whether such an accusation against a sitting President has ever been raised before, nor it is my place to engage in this discussion.

However, being substantiated, or not, allegations of, and attempts to, undermine the rule of law have also been raised against other Heads of States of countries with a longstanding democratic tradition. Democratic governance serves the people who have decided to subject themselves to a system of elected political leaders, and institutions that hold everyone and themselves accountable to the law and the citizens. Any such system must be able to defend itself against external and internal threats. Both the rule of law and the freedom of press are indispensable for this. Eroding either, or both, has always ended in catastrophes.

If a former deputy attorney general publicly accuses the President of the United States of attempting to dismantle the rule of law, one can not prima facie assume it's fake news, or part of a witch hunt. As Sally Yates herself indicates, serious discussions about such concerns are risking to be drowned in "a daily barrage of alarming news". Moreover, the sheer intensity of distracting sensational noise, be it on social media such as Twitter, or elsewhere, numbs all of us. It is purposely meant to incapacitate, to suffocate, any responsible and accountable discussion. The "next thing" is meant to not allow focusing on "this thing", and checking on whether there is a "next thing" becomes obsessive, and addictive. Sensationalism becoming a weapon of warfare, politics become a soap opera filled with obscenities.

Democratic values, a rule of law applying equally to All, dignity, a culture of unemotional and fact-based discourse, all that and more can easily become a casualty in a firestorm of noise and emotional manipulation: Suggestions to rough up suspects in due course of an arrest, or to label criminals as "animals", serve only one purpose: De-humanization. What would you, mother or father, say if the police would bang your son's or daughter's head bloody against the roof of the police car, after an arrest following a, say, false allegation, and if the police would refer to being encouraged doing this by the President of your country? Where would you seek justice?

Peppering it up with sentences such as that criminal gangs have “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields” is using mass-psychology in order to manipulate an already angry and emotionalized electorate. Goethe's Faust comes to mind: The ghosts that we called, now they won't go away and they will be haunting us: The divides between an angry electorate and increasingly frustrated opponents become greater day by day. Fueling it is playing with fire, the erosion of a common base may lead to waking up one day and wondering how we all got there.

Thus, it is heart-warming seeing the leadership of the law enforcement community standing up for values such as policing following the rule of law, and respecting human rights.

Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem delendam esse", so said a Cato the Elder, a senator of ancient Rome, in closing any speech in front of the Senate: "By the way, I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed." It is a synonym for standing up for own convictions, no matter what.

Thus, I repeat the United Nation's definition of the rule of law below, and I congratulate, in my personal capacity, the courage of judges, prosecutors, and police chiefs, in affirming the public that the police and justice will stand up for the rule of law, and human rights, no matter what. Ceterum censeo: Torture does not work, and it is one of the most horrific atrocities of mankind.

For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to 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. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”

 

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