[Easttimorstudies] From 'Asian Currents' bulletin Issue #24

Michael Patrick Leach michael.leach at deakin.edu.au
Thu Apr 20 12:02:53 EST 2006


by Carolyn Bull, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University 
of New South Wales at ADFA 
<mailto:carolynandrob at optusnet.com.au>carolynandrob at optusnet.com.au

In fragile states across the Asia-Pacific, Australia has pursued 
increasingly ambitious initiatives to promote regional stability, 
good governance and sustainable development. The environment in which 
it is working is complex and sometimes hostile. Fragile states 
typically struggle to safeguard their citizens from internal or 
external threats to security. Political relationships are often 
personalised and unpredictable. Non-state actors may exercise 
informal political authority in competition with the state. Criminal 
justice institutions are almost always weak. Society may be 
fragmented and characterised by unreconciled grievances, 
psychological or physical trauma, and disruption to everyday life. In 
extreme cases, complex emergencies may erupt, marked by public health 
catastrophes, large-scale people displacement and the threat of 
extinction to minority cultures.

In such environments, it may be extremely difficult to establish 
democratic institutions. This demands not only elections, parliaments 
and effective public administration, but the confidence of all 
members of society in their own safety and in fair and equal 
treatment by the state. In turn, this rests on the 'rule of law,' a 
principle of governance in which all persons and entities, including 
the state, are accountable to public laws that are equally enforced 
and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with 
international human rights norms and standards. By safeguarding 
citizens against abuse, including by the state, and by moving 
conflict into a non-violent and predictable institutional framework, 
the rule of law helps create a climate of stability and trust in 
which citizens may participate in democratic processes without fear 
of reprisal.

Beyond the complicated and resource-intensive tasks of reforming 
laws, judiciaries and police systems, embedding the rule of law in 
fragile states involves transforming attitudes from acceptance of 
violence, inequality and impunity to support for peaceful conflict 
management, a culture of moderation and an expectation of equal 
treatment by the state. While a well-enforced legal system may help 
ensure compliance, adherence to any rules-based system ultimately 
relies on the extent to which people commit voluntarily to it.

In fragile states, national government and donor strategies have 
sometimes underestimated the magnitude of these challenges. They have 
tended to equate building the rule of law directly with enacting new 
legislation and establishing judicial, police and prison services 
according to models found in donor states. While such institutions 
are crucial, they are unlikely to take root unless relevant actors 
believe they will provide real solutions to real problems, and are 
willing to engage in political processes of transformation that may 
be complex, largely domestic, and time consuming. To be effective, 
strategies need to confront the difficult questions of how state 
institutions are to be legitimated, how they will interact with 
pre-existing indigenous institutions, such as customary law, and how 
they will intertwine with a range of political, social and cultural influences.

The Fragile States Group (www.oecd.org/dac/fragilestates) is a forum 
of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee. It brings together 
experts on governance, conflict prevention and reconstruction from 
bilateral and multilateral development co-operation agencies to 
facilitate co-ordination and share good practice to enhance 
development effectiveness in 'fragile states'. Australia is a member 
of the forum. The Carnegie Endowment has material on the rule of law 
and promotion of democracy: 
See also the Judicial Systems Monitoring Program site on East Timor 

Dr. Michael Leach
Research Fellow
Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation
Faculty of Arts, Deakin University
221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood, VIC 3125 Australia
Ph.:(61-3) 9244 3923 Fax: (61-3) 9244 6755
Email: michael.leach at deakin.edu.au
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