Fragility and Rule of Law in Yemen
Yemen’s ongoing civil war has brought about significant changes to its traditional justice systems, both formal and informal. The conflict has led to the fragmentation of the justice system along the lines of different authorities in control of various areas of the country, resulting in a complex network of parallel legal structures. It has also exacerbated pre-existing challenges to the rule of law and the delivery of justice, with citizens bearing the brunt of the problem. The conflict has contributed to an increase in disputes, further complicating the already complex legal landscape and impacting the fragility and rule of law in Yemen.

According to the United Nations (U.N.), “Poverty often stems from disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination. The rule of law fosters development through strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, by providing access to justice, ensuring due process and establishing remedies for the violation of rights.”

History of Yemen

Yemen’s history has been shaped by the interplay between religion and politics since Islam’s adoption in the 7th century AD. The country was ruled by successive dynasties of Imams from the Zaydi sect until parts of North Yemen came under Ottoman rule in the 19th century. The Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) was established after a revolution led by Colonel Abdallah al-Sallal in 1962, leading to a civil war between traditional royalists and new republicans. The Marxist National Liberation Front took control of South Yemen in 1967, leading to conflict with the YAR until the two unified in 1990, forming the Republic of Yemen. Yemen’s complicated history has resulted in ongoing conflict and instability.

Rule of Law

Tribal affiliation is a significant aspect of social identity in Yemen, with three major tribal confederations historically dominating the north and east regions. Non-tribal areas are prevalent in the west and south. About one-quarter to one-half of Yemenis identify with a tribe. Tribalism has a substantial influence on politics and social organization, and customary laws significantly impact legislation implementation and dispute resolution.

Yemen merged two former states in 1990 to form a multiparty representative democracy. The conflict between Northern and Southern political leaders followed the first legislative elections, leading to the defeat of Southern forces in 1994. Opposition parties, media and non-governmental organizations faced curtailment of freedom. In 2011, mass uprisings, along with external pressure, forced President Saleh to step down and a new president came into power in 2012.

Weak public administration has long plagued Yemen, with a complex history that has resulted in state fragility, ineffective institutions and corruption of the rule of law in Yemen. The country has struggled to develop effective civil service reforms, which often have links to the broader political and administrative context.

Unfortunately, implementing public sector management reforms in developing countries is notoriously difficult. The country has struggled to establish a stable government, with civil war, political turmoil and foreign interventions hindering progress. As a result, Yemen’s public sector is severely lacking, with weak institutional capacity, corruption and political interference.

Public institutions, including the rule of law-related institutions, are dysfunctional. The country’s administration is unable to effectively deliver basic services to the population, including health care, education and infrastructure, a situation that most harshly affects the country’s poorest. According to the World Bank, about 78% of Yemeni people live in poverty due to several compounding issues.

Impact on the People

The conflict in Yemen, between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, is causing harm to civilians, restricting access to aid and leading to displacement. The Houthi rebels have targeted Marib and launched missile strikes in Saudi Arabia, worsening the situation. The U.S. ended support for offensive operations but continues to send weapons to the coalition. The economic crisis has led to food and medicine shortages, a lack of clean water and protests in southern Yemen. The security forces’ response has led to further unrest. Urgent international action is necessary to address the humanitarian crisis and promote peace.

The situation in Yemen stands as one of the worst humanitarian crises globally, with 24.1 million people facing the risks of hunger and disease and 14 million people requiring acute humanitarian aid due to the ongoing conflict since 2015. The economy has suffered, causing widespread poverty and severe food insecurity. More than 40% of households struggle to secure their minimum food needs due to the historic depreciation of the Yemeni riyal, infrastructure disruption and financial service disruptions.

Taking Action

In April 2022, President Hadi transferred authority to a “Presidential Leadership Council,” prompting an economic aid package of $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and $300 million in humanitarian aid from the UAE. However, long-term structural reforms are still necessary.

Promoting Inclusive Access to Justice in Yemen (PIAJ) is a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative that aims to strengthen the rule of law in Yemen and ensure access to justice, among other endeavors. The project will focus on the areas of Sana’a and Aden Governorates, the initial pilot program locations and then Hodeidah (and possibly Hadramout). It will also prioritize the most marginalized and impoverished groups. The project began in 2021 and will end in 2024.

With the support of organizations like the U.N., there is potential for Yemen to strengthen the rule of law, enhance access to justice and progress towards greater stability.

– Noura Matalqa
Photo: Flickr

Law and Fragility in YemenYemen became a fully unified modern state in 1990, and like much of the Middle East, it has faced occupations in various capacities by foreign entities, from the Ottomans to the Egyptians. When Yemen fell into chaos and civil war in 2014, law and fragility in the country became the sole focus.

Explaining the Civil War

The civil war, which is still ongoing, reflects years of religious insurgency, revolution and divide between the north and south of the country. Houthi Rebels took over the capital city of Sanaa in 2014 in the north and have been driving into southern provinces since 2015, with support from the Iranian Government. Although there has been no direct Iranian intervention, Tehran has been able to extend its influence within Yemen as a result of the civil war, leading to the international community seeing the conflict as a microcosm of Saudi-Iranian tension. In response to the usurpation of then-Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2015, a Saudi-led international coalition launched military operations in order to restore the Yemeni government, utilizing air strikes in the country’s northern territories.

Collateral Damage

From this period onwards life for Yemeni civilians hangs in the balance. Sieges and blockades from both sides of the war have resulted in mass loss of life, as territory and victory have trumped local communities, families and children. Yet this story which began in 2014 and is without end even today, has not rang loud enough in the international community: The civil war in Yemen still bears the name “The Forgotten War.”

U.N. estimates have calculated over 130,000 deaths as a result of shortages of food, health services and a lack of authority and law in the country, all the indirect causes of war. UNFPA has labeled this civilian struggle as “one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises,” yet it seems that NGOs have little effect on the ongoing situation. Sky’s Alex Crawford reported on the law and fragility in Yemen, showing civilians having to sell foreign aid goods to starving crowds, none of which can afford the illegally enforced prices.


In April 2022 the U.N. brokered a truce which allowed fuel imports into Houthi-held areas as well as the re-opening of some commercial flights from the capital’s airport. However, by October Houthi representatives refused U.N. proposals to extend the truce and march further towards more concrete peace talks.

With more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and millions of civilians displaced, things were -and are still- looking bleak. Law and fragility remain the key concern of international cohorts. Yet there are people on the ground addressing poverty-stricken communities in Yemen, with national charities taking the initiative to provide necessary funds to lift people’s living conditions.

In January 2023, Qatar Charity announced its plans to donate rapid financial assistance to vulnerable households in Yemen. Qatar Charity will provide the International Organization for Migration with $500,000 to help more than 10,000 poverty-stricken Yemenis.

Furthermore, there may be promising diplomatic events unfolding: In March 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen their respective embassies within two months and re-establish diplomatic relations. This is good news. It remains to be seen how good, yet there is unquestionably renewed momentum on both sides, as the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, told at the U.N. Security Council Meeting: “We are currently witnessing renewed regional diplomatic momentum, as well as a step change in the scope and depth of the discussions.” Economic decline drives humanitarian disaster, if the renewed Saudi-Iranian detente can produce anything resembling peace, if talks between Saudis and Houthis could take place, then Yemen’s economy may react positively, allowing for NGOs like the U.N to operate safely and help Yemen’s poor, driving the change that the country so desperately needs.

The Future

The Yemeni Civil War has largely been neglected by the international community, blocking off NGOs’ routes to the country’s poor. The civil war is largely man-made, meaning the international community could do more to tackle poverty and food insecurity. The renewal of Iran-Saudi relations marks a decisive step in the restoration of law, as well as progress in tackling economic and political fragility in Yemen. Islamic Relief provides food aid to 2 million Yemenis a month, progress in Iran-Saudi relations will only boost the efficacy of organizations such as this.

– George Somper
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in the Philippines The Philippines faces a multitude of challenges due to pervasive corruption in the government, which includes extrajudicial killings, targeted attacks on journalists and a lack of accountability among those in positions of power. This erosion of the rule of law in the Philippines has far-reaching consequences, particularly in exacerbating poverty throughout the country. As the rule of law weakens, officials and politicians manipulate the legal system for their personal benefit, leading to the misallocation of funds meant to benefit the poor.

Against this backdrop, there is a growing demand for justice and accountability in the country. Recent statistics on poverty have underscored the urgent need to address these issues and restore the rule of law in the Philippines. Estimates show that national poverty increased from 16.7% in 2018 to 18.1% in 2021.

By strengthening the rule of law, the Philippines can begin to restore its democracy and ensure that resources benefit all members of society. Rule of law is a crucial factor in determining a country’s economic and social well-being. The weakening of institutions can impede the development of a democratic society that promotes socialization and inclusivity. In turn, extractive institutions that do not adhere to the rule of law breed a culture of inequality and poverty.

The Current State of the Rule of Law

The Philippines is experiencing a decline in its Rule of Law Index score, as the World Justice Project reported. The score decreased by 2.9% from last year, ranking the Philippines 102nd out of 139 countries. Key metrics that make up the rule of law index, such as order and security, criminal justice and fundamental rights that citizens hold, have shown continued deterioration.

The Philippines is also increasingly corrupt, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The country ranks 116th out of 180 countries in 2022, up from 113th in 2020.

In 2019, reports indicated the loss of an estimated 700 billion pesos in the country due to corruption, leading to further deprivation among the poor. Instead of the funds going toward economic production or social welfare, aid and education, the money was lost to government corruption.

Duterte’s war on drugs is an example of the deterioration of the rule of law in the Philippines. Starting in 2016, Duterte’s violent anti-drug operations have been responsible for extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. Recent estimates suggest that more than 36,000 deaths have occurred in the name of the drug war, with blatant disregard for the due process of law.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened corruption in the Philippines in 2020. Several high-ranking officials were accused of siphoning off millions of pesos from the government’s pandemic response budget, leading to outrage and calls for accountability. Although the government did hold some officials accountable for their actions, corruption remains a pervasive issue in the country.

Poverty in the Philippines

The Philippines possesses abundant human and natural resources and had been experiencing continuous economic growth since 1985. However, despite this progress, the country has yet to fully achieve its economic potential.

In 2021, according to the Asian Development Bank, roughly 19.9 million individuals lived below the poverty threshold of about 12,030 pesos monthly for a household of five and the deteriorating rule of law in the Philippines plays a significant role in perpetuating this issue. The weak justice system also creates an environment where people are less likely to trust the government and the legal system.

The weak rule of law leads to a lack of accountability for those who commit crimes and abuse their power. This results in impunity for the wealthy and powerful, who can get away with illegal activities and corruption while the poor continue to suffer. This was evident in the war on drugs as wealthy targets who could pay off vigilantes were less likely to be targeted in the first place.

The COVID-19 pandemic further worsened poverty in the Philippines, with Filipinos being even poorer today than in 2018. A staggering report by private polling firm Social Weather Station revealed that approximately 48% of the population considered themselves poor in 2022.

A Path Forward

New President Marcos Jr. has taken a strong stance against poverty, stating that he will strive to end his six-year term with a “single-digit” poverty rate. Although this goal could be difficult to achieve, it highlights the pressing nature of poverty within the country.

Despite the challenges, there are signs of progress. The Philippines government is making efforts to address the erosion of the rule of law, including investigating and monitoring human rights within the country, beginning with prosecuting corrupt politicians.

In 2019, the country passed a law to modernize and improve its court system. It also made efforts to increase transparency and accountability in government, such as establishing a Freedom of Information Order in 2016. This law gives citizens the right to access information that the government holds, with certain exceptions for national security and other sensitive matters. However, more and urgent action is necessary to protect the media, prevent extrajudicial killings and provide stronger social safety nets for the poor.

If the legal system can function effectively fairly, and impartially, it can provide the foundation needed for a government to flourish and encourage economic growth and poverty reduction. Conversely, the erosion of the rule of law can have devastating consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Therefore, it is essential that the Philippines continue to work toward strengthening its legal system and ensuring that it can function independently and impartially, for the benefit of all its citizens.

– Andrew Giganti
Photo: Flickr

Fragility and Rule of Law in Bahrain
The 2011 protests in the capital of Bahrain, Manama, threatened to divide an already divisive nation. Questioning the state’s fragility and rule of law in Bahrain, the 2011 Bahraini uprising as many now call it, was a historic day in the nation of Bahrain. The majority of the Shia population in Bahrain initiated the protests that became so untenable for the kingdom that around 1,000 Saudi troops deployed in the nation at the ruling Al Khalifa family’s request.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators who protested all across Bahrain disputed the Al Khalifa family’s strong control of power and alleged discrimination against the nation’s majority Shia population. Clearly questioning the fragility and rule of law in Bahrain, the protesters appeared fed up with the continuing human rights crisis in the country and the lack of democratic reforms that the government promised back in the 2001 referendum for the National Action Charter.

A Propped-Up Government

A small archipelago, Bahrain has a small GDP of almost $39 billion in 2021 in comparison to its neighbors. The GDP of Saudi Arabia equaled $833 billion in 2021 whereas the UAE’s GDP sat at $415 billion in 2021.

The Middle East has a variety of governments varying in nature and function. However, unlike other areas of the world, nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait have royal families who still control most of the power in their respective nations, all of whom are Sunni Muslims. Bahrain is no different — the House of Khalifa is the ruling family of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The only major difference between Bahrain and the other kingdoms or emirates is that Bahrain has a majority Shia population.

For the Al Khalifa’s neighboring royal families, the main source of income is oil exportation. Nations such as the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia largely nationalized oil. Therefore, tax revenue is only a small percentage of the nations’ overall revenue. This allows for the ruling royal families to significantly lower the tax burden for their populations. Having income tax is not popular in the Gulf region. This largely explains how undemocratic regimes have held onto power for so long. The trade-off is that the population is able to prosper due to the low tax, keeping the population happy and the undemocratic royal family keeps power.

Oil-Dependent Economy

Unfortunately for the Bahraini royal family, Bahrain has been unable to diversify its economy. Bahrain’s dependence on selling oil has resulted in a shaky economy, meaning that when the oil prices dip, the Bahraini deficit grows at an alarming rate.

Unlike its neighbors, Bahrain has a significant deficit. The experts expected the Bahraini economy to contract in 2020 due to lower-than-expected oil prices. According to Reuters, Bahrain’s public debt climbed to 133% of its GDP in 2020.

The problem with this is, unlike other ruling royal families, the Al Khalifa family cannot continue to offer its population big benefits and low taxes to keep the population happy and keep themselves in power as Bahrain’s economy could eventually collapse. But, Bahrain has received significant financial backing from neighboring countries. Gulf nations such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent aid packages in the region of $10 billion to facilitate Bahrain’s growing expenses in 2018.

Without the support of Bahrain’s neighbors, both financially and militarily, the royal family of Bahrain may have been unable to cling to power for so long.

Human Rights in Bahrain

Desperate to keep power in Bahrain, the Al Khalifa family has continued to commit many serious human rights violations in the nation. These violations include torture, suppression of expression and denying the right to assembly. According to Amnesty International, reports note many cases of torture in state detention centers. Authorities commonly use torture methods such as sleep deprivation, threats of execution and beatings.

Bahrain has allowed impunity. Though the Bahraini Special Investigation Unit has received reports of torture, it has failed to report on the number of incidents and did not fully report the outcomes of such cases. After the 2011 protests, authorities detained many peaceful protesters and tried and sentenced them to life in prison in some cases.

Health and hygiene conditions in Bahraini prisons have remained a serious cause for concern. Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that up to three detainees have died in Bahraini prisons amid claims of medical negligence.

Freedom of expression and assembly remain limited, authorities often arrest protesters and independent media and prominent opposition groups remain outlawed. Authorities arrested at least 58 people for online activities that go against Bahrain’s restricted online content laws.

Looking Ahead

As it stands, the backing from other Gulf countries means it is unlikely that the Al Khalifa Royal family will be leaving positions of power within the government despite large portions of the population questioning the fragility and rule of law in Bahrain. This becomes unfortunate for the Shia majority population who wish to see more equality in positions of power between Shia and Sunni groups. With the Bahraini royal family continuing to get support from its neighbors, the human rights crisis in the nation may take longer to reach a resolution.

Fortunately, a number of nonprofit organizations aim to make a difference in Bahrain. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) is a nonprofit focusing on advocacy, education and awareness for the calls for democracy and human rights in Bahrain. BIRD has worked “by engaging with victims of human rights abuse in Bahrain and providing them recourse to aid and justice.” The organization also “engages with key international actors and governments to advocate for policies that encourage human rights in Bahrain.” Its mission is to “promote human rights and effective accountability in Bahrain.”

The efforts of organizations ensure that human rights are upheld amid fragility in Bahrain.

– Josef Whitehead
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in Nicaragua
The rule of law in Nicaragua has been precariously balanced for decades. The narcotics trade is rife in Central America, with the Global Organized Crime Index citing the nation as a trans-shipment point for cocaine. The illicit cargo travels from its source of production in South America to its consumer market in North America. Along this journey, drug cartels and gangs use violent means to control the products. Invariably, it is the country’s poorest and most desperate inhabitants who end up working for these criminal organizations.

Working to Stabilize a Fragile Environment

Christian Aid has been one of the key organizations working to create new opportunities for Nicaraguans. Through its partnership with Hibiscus Cooperative and Soppexcca, Christian Aid has afforded training for farmers growing hibiscus, coffee and cocoa to enhance their production, marketing and sales skills. Subsequently, this has allowed local producers to reach new customers and earn a better and more secure living without the influence of cartels. These attempts to bring stability to the local economy go hand-in-hand with the fight to protect the rule of law in Nicaragua, an increasingly volatile nation. 

Presidential Crackdown on Religious Freedom Limits Charity Work

Foreign aid provides funding for charitable organizations in Nicaragua and has become even more critical following the country’s controversial election in November. Chatham House has reported that more than 40 governments across the globe denounced the legitimacy of President Daniel Ortega’s campaign. Ortega ran for his fourth consecutive term in November 2022, continuing a tenure that began in 2007. With the majority of his political opponents currently imprisoned, most regarded his reelection as a foregone conclusion. During a televised speech in September, Ortega launched a campaign against the Catholic faith, accusing the Pope of being a dictator and describing priests as killers’ and coup-plotters. 

Ortega’s authoritarian rule of law in Nicaragua has seen him initiate a war on religious freedom. In an attempt to limit the influence of Christianity, which he sees as the only viable threat to his leadership, Ortega suspended 2,600 nonprofit organizations in Nicaragua in 2022, according to Christianity Today.

NGOs That are Still Operational

While Ortega’s assault on the NGO sector will have significant repercussions on the rate of poverty in Nicaragua, there are organizations that are still functioning. El Porvenir is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that works to provide clean water through community water systems. The charity focuses on various aspects of sanitation, including building double-pit latrines, educating communities on the best practices for health and hygiene and restoring watersheds via nature-based design and reforestation. So far, the organization has benefitted nearly a quarter of a million people in Nicaragua, building 14,000 latrines and planting 1.6 million trees. 

Ultimately, the situation in Nicaragua is delicately poised. The purging of thousands of NGOs by Ortega’s government is deeply troubling for those who wish to see a brighter future for a nation with such a high rate of poverty. However, hope exists moving forward as the work that currently operating NGOs are doing may help create a sustainable future for a time when democracy might one day return and a legitimate rule of law in Nicaragua can be reinstated.

– Max Edmund
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in Lebanon
Once dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East,” Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was well-known for its vibrancy. It comprised culture, music, art and a spirited social life inspired by France after it gained independence in 1943. Until 1975, Lebanon was in a state of peace and prosperity and it was a popular tourist destination and center for international trade. While that all changed when a 15-year-long civil war raged on and completely changed the governance of the nation socially and politically, the Lebanese people never lost their celebrated resilience.

About the Rule of Law in Lebanon

The aspiring future of Lebanon was heavily altered after the 15-year civil war of 1975 that left Lebanon in a rather unique state of fragility. While the nation had both an open political system and economy after gaining independence from the French, with low poverty levels compared to others in the region, the War greatly impacted Lebanon’s sense of safety, political regimes and infrastructure. Thus, in efforts to rebuild the state and end the war in 1989, the government signed the National Reconciliation accord in Taif, Saudi Arabia.

Notably, the amended Lebanese Constitution that followed called for establishing a constitutional court and enhanced the power of the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, over the Maronite Christian president and the Shi’a Muslim speaker of Parliament.

This judiciary structure and political system of Lebanon, which both French and Ottoman models inspired, had a multi-confessional structure. It called for equality before the law and equal representation of Lebanese civilians, protecting their freedom of religion, and respecting rights for the Cabinet to act as a mechanism for fairness between the religions. Furthermore, it also allowed the Syrian forces that remained in Lebanon as a result of the Syrian occupation of 1976 to stay in the country as a stabilizing force.

However, it suffered significant division following the war, as warlords began holding seats in Parliament after a national amnesty in 1990. There were also exchanges of personal benefits between the government and parliament, and conflict over sectarian interests that deeply impacted the rule of law in Lebanon. Despite this, Lebanon still managed to see five prosperous years starting in 2000, until the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in 2005.

The Way This Has Impacted the Nation

The year Prime Minister Hariri was assassinated, the Syrian occupation ended, and thus, Syrians received permission to remain in Lebanon and increase their military power. Because of this, they began interfering in Lebanese political affairs, and a series of events followed that included continuing assassinations, a war between Israel and militant group Hezbollah, Hezbollah’s retaliation and their invasion of Sunni areas in Beirut as well as further religious showdowns, corruption and economic mismanagement.

The Lebanese government’s structure meant that it needed to include all factions, which led to leaders monopolizing their shared power amongst themselves, and then using that power to pursue their own agendas and interests, allowing for sectarian divide. This political unrest and breach of Lebanon’s security, as well as threats from neighboring countries, severely rattled rule of law in Lebanon.

Thus, Lebanon grew to become the most indebted country after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, as the nation became financially reliant on internal and external borrowing. Lebanon was unsuccessful in producing long-term economic growth, despite the fiscal, monetary and central bank policies that attempted to reduce its deficits.

With this debt and other economic disasters, the political structure of Lebanon adopted a clientelist structure as the productive sector only favored elites, making the economy unproductive and undiversified, worsening poverty levels and deepening inequality. In 2020, the top 10% of Lebanese workers received 56% of the total income earned from 2005 to 2014 and the lowest 50% of the population received only 11%.


All the political unrest amongst leaders in government created an ethnoreligious identity and social dynamic that formed multiple political parties, creating a strong sense of community amongst the people and militias who support each other despite contributing to an insurgency in the country.

In October 2019, citizens across Lebanon stormed Beirut streets as they protested against a tax on WhatsApp calls, which was meant to act as one of Beirut’s solutions to combat economic pressures. However, these protests eventually turned into nationwide protests that lasted for months, as the Lebanese people saw these tax measures issues as only favoring the elite at the expense of the lesser privileged middle class.

This shows that hope still exists for the future of Lebanon, as Lebanese people have taken measures to improve the rule of law in Lebanon. Following the protests in October 2019, Lebanon saw an increase in community-based and grassroots networks, as well as public mobilization, looking for peaceful change. After the explosion in Beirut in 2020, for example, youth groups, women’s networks and Chief Starting Officers joined together to assist vulnerable families and keep community tensions under control, as well as tackle the spread of fake COVID-19 news.

Among these initiatives is the Grassroots Lebanon Non-Profit Organization (GLNPO), a network of Lebanese citizens looking to take action into their own hands to improve the standards of living that Lebanon’s fragility impacted. GLNPO encourages a sense of belonging and looks to promote a high sense of solidarity and agency among the community by tackling poverty, improving education, providing medical support and raising awareness of a number of issues impacting society. So far, GLNPO has provided relief after the Beirut explosion in 2020, distributed aid to schools and hosted cultural events among many other projects that aim to benefit the future and people of Lebanon.

– Noura Matalqa
Photo: Flickr

Fragility and Rule of Law in Puerto Rico
Compared to other countries in North and Central America, Puerto Rico is unique in terms of its fragility and rule of law. Puerto Rico is considered a U.S. territory and is subject to U.S. laws, but also has its own government and constitution, which passed through Congress in 1952. Joe Biden stands as the president of Puerto Rico, but a governor elected by Puerto Ricans also rules over the territory. Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizen status, but cannot vote in presidential elections and have no representatives in Congress. These contradictions mean that Puerto Rico is neither a state nor a sovereign country. Understanding fragility and the rule of law in Puerto Rico provides insight into the importance of aid to the nation in times of crisis.

The Statehood Debate

Because it is a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is included in the U.S. Census data. According to the most recent data from July 2021, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico stood at 40.5% and the median household income between 2016-2020 stood at a little over $21,000.

Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S., had a median household income of $45,792 in 2021, an amount $20,000 less than the national average, and a poverty rate of 19.6%. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, yet its poverty rate is more than twice as high as the poorest state in the U.S.

The past few decades have seen debates about statehood and Puerto Rico’s admission into the Union as a state. Puerto Rico has held six referendums over the years regarding statehood, the most recent one occurring in 2020. The majority of citizens voted for statehood but Congress ultimately has the final say in determining statehood. Even if statehood is something that Puerto Rico wants, that decision is entirely out of its hands. This important fact and poverty statistics partly explain the fragility and rule of law in Puerto Rico.

The Economic Factors

The debate over statehood ties into some of Puerto Rico’s economic woes as well. Because of its status, Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar as its currency and U.S. laws and policies oversee its businesses and trade policy. Puerto Ricans enjoy tax exemptions, but they receive far fewer social welfare benefits than people living in the U.S. even though the U.S. government considers them U.S. citizens. Puerto Ricans challenged some of these lack of benefits in court, such as Supplemental Security Income, but, ultimately, the cases saw no success.

The country is also in the middle of an economic recession due to massive debt. According to an article from Vox on Puerto Rico’s situation, the debt crisis began in 2014 when Puerto Rico had accumulated $72 billion worth of bond debt. Data from the Council on Foreign Relations shows that the debt in 2020 stood at about $70 billion, which is about 68% of Puerto Rico’s GDP. Puerto Rico turned its budget over to an independent board in Washington in order to help control its debt.

Hurricane Recovery

Hurricanes and their lingering effects on people and the economy exacerbate the fragility of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Fiona is fresh on everyone’s minds but Hurricane Maria (2017) had a more significant impact on the country.

An Amnesty International article from 2018 reveals personal accounts and statistics on the state of Puerto Rico one year after Maria. According to the article, “tens of thousands in Puerto Rico are still living under blue tarps, designed as temporary roofs.” Additionally, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rejected about 62% of applications for home reconstruction aid at that time. Hurricane Maria also knocked out nearly 80% of the island’s energy grid and power had not been restored to the last house until a year later. Then, Hurricane Fiona hit in September 2022, dismantling much of the recovery process.

Many places on the island experienced flooding with some areas receiving as much as 30 inches of rain. In Puerto Rico, “overflowing waterways and the loss of power caused pumps to fail, leaving 70% of households and businesses that rely on the public water and sewer system without potable water,” The India Express says.

By September 2022, LUMA, the main power utility in Puerto Rico, restored power to more than 100,000 people out of the 1.5 million LUMA customers without power.

In addition, many facilities learned from the events of Hurricane Maria and employed generators — hospitals ran on backup generators during the storm. This is in stark contrast to the time of Hurricane Maria when many hospitals lost power during the storm and could not operate.

The United States Response

The White House is committed to helping Puerto Rico recover. During his speech in Puerto Rico on October 3, 2022, Biden promised that Puerto Rico will receive every dollar Congress approved in federal aid after Maria hit. In terms of aid, at the time of the speech, the U.S. sent $4 million to improve the resilience of Puerto Rico’s electricity grid.

During the first month of response since Biden declared the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster on September 21, 2022, FEMA provided more than $456 million in disaster relief to more than 600,000 families. In addition, Biden authorized FEMA to provide its services (Individual Assistance, Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation) to all municipalities in Puerto Rico. The agency had also hired Puerto Ricans as temporary employees to assist with recovery efforts in order to reduce unemployment.

By improving issues regarding fragility and the rule of law in Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico can achieve stability in several critical areas.

– Matthew Wikfors
Photo: Flickr

Fragility of Rule of Law in Honduras
Government corruption, drug-related crimes and poverty are three factors that reinforce each other and perpetuate the fragility of rule of law in Honduras. Poverty in Honduras remains a major concern, as around 48% of its population (more than 4.3 million people) live below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the country is also a key transit point for drugs bound to the United States from South America, said the U.S. State Department in its 2022 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. A culture of impunity also prevails, with corruption and abuse marring the country’s judiciary and police, according to the 2022 World Report by Human Rights Watch.

The good news is that while these problems continue to plague the scenic Central American country, several local and U.S. institutions are working together to develop strategies aimed at improving the rule of law in Honduras.

Factors Undermining the Rule of Law in Honduras

In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the Honduran government received a transparency score of 24 out of 100. A score of zero means highly corrupt and 100 is very transparent.

Misconduct, common among police officers and other low-ranking officials, reaches the country’s highest level of government as well. For instance, in 2022, the U.S. government extradited Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez for drug and weapons trafficking charges.

Corruption plays a part in continual poverty by misappropriating the funds intended for the delivery of essential services for the citizens of Honduras. Notably, in 2018, corruption in Honduras was more than $2 billion, or 12.5% of the nation’s GDP.

The Association for a More Just Society says that without a strong government to enforce the rule of law in Honduras, criminal organizations grow in power and influence. As a result, corruption and poverty keep deepening.  

Efforts to Uphold Rule of Law in Honduras

In response to a $300 million embezzlement scandal from 2014, the Honduran public called for the president’s resignation. They also demanded the creation of a national anti-corruption agency.

To address the public outrage, the Honduran government collaborated with the Organization of American States (OAS). This collaboration led to the creation of the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).

The MACCIH began operations in 2016 and was fairly successful. It arrested and convicted many high-ranking government officials implicated in the embezzlement scandal. It also fired 40% of the police force under suspicion of corruption. However, after four years, the MACCIH’s mandate ended following a disagreement between the Honduran government and the OAS.

The MACCIH’s shutdown also led to the end of the Special Prosecutor’s Unit against Impunity and Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especial contra la Impunidad y la Corrupción) or UFECIC. UFECIC and the MACCIH were working closely in investigating corrupt networks.

Replacing UFECIC was the Special Prosecutor’s Unit against Corruption Networks (Unidad Fiscal Especializada Contra Redes de Corrupción) or UFERCO. However, UFERCO receives insufficient resources and support from national and international institutions. UFERCO’s situation debilitates efforts to uphold the rule of law in Honduras.

An additional complication to addressing the fragility of rule of law in Honduras is a new penal code, the Washington Office on Latin America said. The new code reduces sentences for corruption and drug trafficking-related crimes. 

Indeed, the controversial new code led to the acquittal of 14 officials implicated in the 2014 embezzlement case. Beneficiaries of the controversial code also include those convicted of misusing government money. Under the new code, those sentenced to less than five years have the possibility to reduce their sentence if they can repay the stolen funds. The new penal code went into effect in June 2020.

Onward and Forward: The Path to Strengthening the Rule of Law in Honduras

Despite the setbacks, several activities aimed at reducing the fragility of rule of law in Honduras persist. One such initiative is the Justice, Human Rights and Security Strengthening Activity (Unidos por la Justicia). This project, which USAID launched in 2016, operates to: instigate institutional reform, increase access to justice and civil society, increase policing and empower women to combat gender-based violence.

Additionally, the Biden Administration has pledged $4 billion over four years to address crime, poverty and corruption in Honduras and its neighboring states El Salvador and Guatemala. The move is part of the “U.S. Strategy for Addressing the Root Cause of Migration in Central America” plan.

This funding led to the founding of the Effective Justice to Combat Criminality and Corruption Project (JECCC), a U.S.-backed project seeking to collaborate with and expand on the efforts of Unidos por la Justicia.

In the past, the United States gave funds directly to the central government and Honduran law enforcement. However, to avoid funneling money into corrupt institutions, the new protocol prioritizes NGOs working toward improved education, agriculture and women’s rights.

– Xander Heiple
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in Belize
When one hears the words “Central American prison,” the picture that may come to mind is an overcrowded and unforgiving facility, containing some of the world’s most hardened gang members and violent criminals. However, since it took over operations in 2002, the nonprofit Kolbe Foundation has aimed to quash this cliché by running the Belize Central Prison on a faith-based system that prioritizes inmate rehabilitation, thus improving the rule of law in Belize. In the “Hattieville Ramada,” as locals have nicknamed it, inmates receive an education, as well as vocational training in woodwork, agriculture, welding and construction.

Private Prison with a Positive Mission

Although the Kolbe Foundation privately owns the Belize Central Prison, the nonprofit does not gain any financial reward for its operations. This is a stark contrast to many American prisons, which government agencies contract out to private organizations that stand to make a profit from the number of inmates housed.

Before the Kolbe Foundation took over, the Belize Central Prison did not have a sewer system. It only contained 300 beds, even though there were 900 inmates. Since the Kolbe Foundation took over, recidivism rates have fallen significantly, with only 10% of inmates reoffending five years after release. Along with the lower recidivism rates, Belize’s overall homicide rates have dropped from 42.55 to 29.06 per 100,000 inhabitants.              

Although the Belize Central Prison has made several strides since its 2002 change of ownership, the Belizean Criminal justice system has fallen short in many areas. For example, more than one-third of the inmates in Belize Central Prison are in pre-trial detention, still waiting for the government to charge them with a crime formally and showing the fragility of the rule of law in Belize. According to the U.S. Department of State, corruption and a lack of resources have hampered many of Belize’s counter-narcotics attempts. This lack of resources adversely affects Belize’s fragility and the rule of law, which one can see in its criminal justice system’s inability to prosecute defendants speedily.                                                                         

Even though the inter-governmental Caribbean Community has hailed it as the “model” Central American prison, the U.S. State Department has cited “harsh conditions” and “inadequate sanitation procedures” that contributed to overcrowding issues.                                                                            

Compared to the conditions of other Central American correctional facilities, the Belize Central Prison has experienced many improvements regarding prisoner rehabilitation and crime reduction. On average, the Belize Central Prison only spends $7 per day on each inmate. The average American inmate costs upwards of $100 per day. Despite this significant gap in spending, the Belize Central Prison has still experienced relative success in outcomes after release, such as the integration of prisoners back into society through vocational training and low recidivism rates.

The Necessity of Improvements

The lack of funding is still apparent in many aspects of prison conditions, such as cell ventilation and overcrowding, which has caused sanitary issues. Due to its proximity between South American drug suppliers and Mexico’s southern border, gang violence from the narcotics trade is prevalent in Belize. However, the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has attempted to prevent future gang violence in Belize by increasing policing efforts and educating youth in areas with gang activity. By improving the fragility and the rule of law in Belize, international aid can resolve a vital cause of global poverty and violence.

– Salvatore Brancato
Photo: Flickr

Rule of Law in Bolivia
Protests in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, threaten to hamper an already struggling economy. A city-wide shutdown occurred on August 8, 2022, over the government’s decision to postpone the 2022 decennial census until 2024. On one hand, Santa Cruz’s legislators believe that delaying the census is an attempt to deny the municipality more political representation as its population has ballooned in the previous three decades. Santa Cruz’s leadership in the battle for the census reinforces the city’s trend of opposition toward the ruling government (Movimiento al Socialismo), but also its power as the economic center of Bolivia.

By strongly opposing itself to the rule of Movimiento al Socialismo, Santa Cruz’s situation shows the fragility of the rule of law in Bolivia. The United Nations highlights that rule of law plays an integral role in the development of countries and the reduction of poverty as poverty often arises from “disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination.” The rule of law upholds the voices of the people, safeguards democracy and ensures the protection of human rights.

A History of Protests

Santa Cruz’s governor Luis Camacho announced that the capital of the municipality could freeze for 48 hours starting August 8 until President Luis Arce agreed to discuss an earlier census date. As the largest city in Bolivia and its economic center, estimates indicate that each day of the shutdown will equate to an economic loss of $33 million, leading to accusations of crippling the economy for political gain. Alongside the economic problems caused by the protest, there have been reports of violence from those in favor and against the shutdown, with mayor Jhonny Fernández’s home coming under attack.

This is not a temporary issue either. Santa Cruz has undergone numerous shutdowns in previous years, dating all the way back to the nationwide shutdown in 2019 over ex-President Evo Morales’ alleged fraudulent election victory. As recently as July 2022, protestors spoke out against Movimiento al Socialismo’s imprisonment of many opposition members. Among the imprisoned is former President Jeanine Añez whose interim presidency was upheld by the Bolivian Constitutional Court prior to her condemnation.

Hope for Resolution

Although these incidents point to the fragility of the rule of law in Bolivia, there is strong hope for a resolution to the conflict. President Arce agreed to revisit the 2023 census’ date with delegates from Santa Cruz, an important step toward reconciliation between Movimiento al Socialismo and Santa Cruz’s opposition government. Another promising feature of the shutdown is that despite sporadic violence, both the central government and Santa Cruz’s mayor have called for a peaceful resolution with dialogue from all sides.

Additionally, foreign nonprofits, governments and organizations form an active part of the efforts to strengthen Bolivia’s fragile political situation. In 2019, the Organization of American States and the European Union reviewed Bolivia’s election results, reporting possible instances of electoral fraud. In 2020, with oversight once again, Bolivia held an election with a fair democratic process in place.

To safeguard democracy and the rule of law, the International Republican Institute works to strengthen “democracy and freedom” and “guide politicians to be responsive to citizens” while “[motivating] people to engage in the political process.” In Bolivia specifically, the IRI aims to “support free and fair elections, democratic institutions and local government, civil society capacity building, and efforts to promote peacebuilding and reconciliation.”

Looking Ahead

In the Declaration of the High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, states stressed that “the rule of law at the national and international levels is essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and hunger and the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, all of which in turn reinforce the rule of law.”

Ultimately, fragility remains a key issue for the rule of law in Bolivia, but both local and federal governments are showing a desire to prevent violence and enforce institutional authority. The rejections of violence by Governor Camacho and President Arce indicate that although there are differences between the states and the Bolivian government, there is also a willingness to bring issues like the census to an amicable resolution to strengthen the rule of law in Bolivia.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Flickr