If nobody respects the laws, why should I be the first one?

Civil society as a key tool for improving the Rule of Law

The road to an effective Rule of Law in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere is a difficult one. The first obstacle is probably the pessimism about the public respect of the Laws, also called legal nihilism.  If nobody respects the laws, why should I be the first one to do so?

The general answer to such question is that if nobody would respect the Laws, the State would resemble chaos and anarchy where the rule of the strongest prevails.  Not convincing enough? I agree, we should do better than this!

To give a better answer, then, we should look at reformulating the question as it implies that the Justice — or by extension the Rule of Law – is something external to you, a remote concept in which we have a passive role. No! This is not true! Justice is –or should –administered on behalf and for the protection of all the people, nobody excluded.  How can we then correct this misunderstanding?

I suggest that we should all ask ourselves what we can do for the Justice, not only what the Justice can do for us.

With this aim in mind UNDP Kyrgyzstan, over the last year, has undertaken a wide series of initiatives to help the transformation of citizens in more active participants to the Justice system rather than passive one in the understanding that civil society involvement is a critical element for improving the Rule of Law.  How?

In September 2015 we have launched a public competition asking all participants to give their own definition of the Rule of Law.  The winner made an interesting point, stating that the establishment of the Rule of Law requires it to become a sort of a national ideology and value. He added that the Law is not all about having your rights respected, but also about carrying obligations as that of a citizen. He was included into the trip to Malaysia as part of the delegation of high state officials during their study visit on the judicial reform process in Malaysia. Upon his return, he made public presentations on his experience and published  a summary of his findings on local newspapers.

On December 9th, the International Anti-Corruption day, youth movements, with the support of UNDP, have organized a flash mob in front of the Government building asking to break the chain of corruption and requesting accountability for the 700 million USD dollars a year that are lost due to corruption costs.


Recently, a group of 30 students pursuing law degree, out of hundreds of applications, was selected to perform public trial monitoring alongside the Ombudsman officers. After being trained they are now attending public trials and reporting on their findings. In this way they will be both learning the reality of the delivery of justice in the courtrooms and improve the accountability of the judiciary towards the people. According to their preliminary findings , the overwhelming amount of trials are postponed rendering the delivery of justice very inefficient.

Last , but not least  a public monitoring forum of the ongoing judicial reform  composed by specialized civil society representatives was created , with the aim to represent a mechanism for public advocacy, issuance of recommendations and a  critical observer of the government activities. A series of trainings have been delivered on international principles and standards on the topic and they shall now become a routine practice for all interested people.

Overall, the vision of UNDP Kyrgyzstan is to build the Justice system starting from the bottom, from the people, all the people, who are actors and not occasional bystanders of the Rule of Law. Let’s really start wondering what we can do for Justice not only what Justice can do for us.

Lucio Valerio Sarandrea (CTA on Rule of Law, Kyrgyz Republic) lucio.sarandrea@undp.org,
Photo Credit: Arslan Sabyrbekov, Communication specialist for UNDP project “Enhancing the Democratic Rule of Law to Promote Peace and Stability in the Kyrgyz Republic”, The flash mob is being performed by students on Anti-Corruption day.

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