Like other donors, SDC has dealt with rule of law issues for years. In several countries, SDC supports judicial reform and the improvement of the legal framework for economic and social development. This concept paper aims to provide information and guidance to SDC’s staff and partners at headquarters and in partner countries. The concept paper begins by identifying the essential elements of the rule of law. Although there is no internationally accepted definition of the rule of law, key elements generally include: non-discrimination and equality before the law, the hierarchy of norms, and the substantive coherence of the legal framework, the government is bound by law, the separation of powers, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and respect for human rights.
The rule of law is interlinked with other concepts used in international cooperation: the rule of law is a means to realize human rights and gender equality, a key element for good governance, decentralization, poverty reduction, economic development, and peace building. Depending on these different perspectives, the concept is multicoloured, and it results in different and sometimes even conflicting approaches to and priorities for legal and judicial reforms. SDC will use the rule of law concept as a means to realize human rights, and implement its principles with flexibility, taking into account the relevant context, and potential entry points for cooperation.
Part two of this concept paper looks at the growing trend to include the rule of law dimension in legal and judicial reform projects. The performance of judicial institutions depends not just on operational efficiency, but also on their accessibility to vulnerable groups and effectiveness in realizing human rights. Justice sector reforms are increasingly seen from a systemic perspective, as a series of interconnected institutions and procedures to be analysed and improved. Moreover, legal and judicial systems are not restricted to formal, “modern” laws and institutions: they include informal and traditional law and procedures.
Part three provides illustrative examples of SDC’s engagement and experience involving the rule of law dimension both in legal and judicial reform and in other areas of development cooperation. The examples show that the legal dimension of development can be addressed in a variety of contexts and manners with different partners and entry points.