Last week, Amnesty International published its 2009 Report on the state of human rights across the globe. Perhaps not surprisingly, the report, inter alia, focuses on some of the effects that the current economic situation has on the respect for human rights. Thus, the foreword by Secretary General Irene Kahn notes that “it is not just the economy, it’s a human rights crisis”. While the situation is undoubtedly a bit more complicated than that, and while the economic development and expansion witnessed across the world over the last five years have helped lift millions of people out of poverty, consequently improving their human rights situation, it is not unlikely that an economic recession will lead to more human rights violations such as, for instance, increases in heavy-handed quelling of demonstrations by rogue authorities (as incidents of unrest are expected to rise). However, in a recent speech reported in today’s Times, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, who will head the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom when it comes into force later this year, points out how some of the initiatives taken in light of the economic situation may go against the rule of law (full speech here). Lord Phillips points to the use of retroactive legislation and media persecution of particular individuals who are targeted for having caused the financial meltdown which led to the dire economic situation. Moreover, Lord Phillips note that the rule of law must be respected by all, not just political leaders but also corporations, although judges and lawyers have a particular important role to play. In addition, Lord Phillips points out that the rule of law is never negotiable – it must be adhered to at all times.
Unfortunately, this only leaves us with the problem of actually defining the rule of law. A quick read through Rawls, Dicey and Raz quickly establishes that this is not always very easy.