David Crane, Founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, discusses the rule of law as the alternative to tyranny...
“The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
On 6 January 2021, as our nation watched in shock as an insurrection took place before our very eyes, egged on and encouraged by the President of the United States and others, the question in all our minds was how could this happen in the United States of America? The entire world gasped and condemnation was universal and bi-partisan.
We watched a scenario where there was no rule of law and the results made this nation realize that the alternative to the law is horrific. The rule of law is a phrase thrown about with regularity and often not understood. To some, it is a trite phrase almost like saying “have a nice day.” It is not and liberal democracies exist only because of it. Our international world order, cobbled together seventy-five years ago after a lawless five years called World War II, is based on the premise of the rule of law. It is the cornerstone to the United Nations paradigm…the settlement of disputes peacefully, the use of force only as a last resort.
The law is a shield against tyranny and has been used to face down tyrants, holding many of them accountable. Where the law was used for accountability a region of the world was saved from the rule of the gun, the beast of impunity slain. When it was not used tyranny thrived, liberty and freedom crushed. The results weakening international peace and security.
We are in an age of the strongmen, where tyrants hold power across the globe, two of those tyrants are heads of nations that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China, and Russia. The events of 6 January need to be a clarion call to right-thinking nations and peoples across the globe, and certainly the United States, that true peace and security can only be had by norms based on law. Tyrants need to be “faced up to” under law, backing them off their policies of suppression, forcing them into a box making it difficult to exist in a world order based on the four freedoms: freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom to worship, and freedom to speak.
The rule of the gun exists in such places as Western China, the Ukraine, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Philippines, Brazil, as well other regions of the world. Much of this nurtured during the age of the strongman that has existed these past several years. With the election of the current US President, the strongmen around the world thrived, admired and encouraged by his administration.
Hate, tyranny, fear, and loathing percolated just under the surface of American society, used by America’s own tyrant for his personal and political gain. This is a standard tactic of tyrants and the current President used the same playbook that past tyrants have used to take control and remain in power. Over the past century, history is replete with tyrants and their monstrous destruction of nations and its peoples.
Events like the storming of the Capitol of the world’s most admired democracy can be used in a positive way, however, by which those who believe in the rule of law can seek to re-establish a renewed world order based on law. Liberal democracies must step forward with a strong and clear vision of making international peace and security a continued reality, with the United States as the leader in this reawakening. By this action, we can turn the age of the strongman back into the age of accountability that began during this new century. Truly the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun.
The incoming President of the United States, Joe Biden, correctly declared that:
For any young democracy, the most difficult but important step is burying the legacy of tyranny and establishing an economy and a government and institutions that abide by the rule of law. Every country faces challenges to the rule of law, including my own.
David Crane is Founding Chief Prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa called the Special Court for Sierra Leone; retired member of the Senior Executive Service of the United States of America; founder Global Accountability Network. His recent JURIST commentary “Beware a Reichstag Fire” warned of possible events like 6 January.
Suggested citation: David Crane, The Rule of Law is More Powerful than the Rule of the Gun, JURIST – Professional Commentary, January 7, 2021, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2021/01/david-crane-the-rule-of-law/.
This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST Senior Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at email@example.com.
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