Rule of Law Reform in Post-Conflict Countries: Operational Initiatives and Lessons Learnt

This paper aims to provide a tour d’horizon of common operational initiatives and policy approaches adopted by agencies and institutions involved in the area of rule of law reform in fragile or post-conflict countries, and identify key lessons highlighted in the policy literature.

The paper reviews some of the key lessons to have emerged from the last two decades of rule of law experience, typically undertaken in fragile or post-conflict countries (and more generally in developing countries) by a multiplicity of uncoordinated actors and projects. There is a striking lack of systematic results-based evaluations of the programs, especially independent rigorous cross country evaluations, or comprehensive case studies of all the programs in a country. The rule of law expertise that exists is not centralized or institutionalized, and resides in individuals who have often learnt through trial and error. The field lacks a common foundation or basic agreement on the goals of rule of law reform, on how different aspects should be sequenced to avoid them working against each other, and fundamentally what sortsof strategies are effective. The paper highlights 11 important lessons: lack of coherent strategy and expertise; insufficient knowledge of how to bring about change; a general trend to focus on form over function; emphasis on the formal legal system over informal and traditional systems; short-term reforms in contrast to longer term strategies; wholesale vs. incremental and context-determined change; the need for local change agents; how to engender local ownership; rushed and compromised constitution making; poorly designed training and legal education programs; and the need to sequence and prioritize change.