• Non governmental organisations and the rule of law: The experience of Latin America

      Macaulay, Fiona (2018)
      The rule of law, that is, the fair, competent, effective, and predictable application of laws that enhance, rather than undermine, social accountability and fundamental human rights, is a core function of the state, and forms part of its social contract with the citizenry. However, ensuring that a government upholds the rule of law requires a number of checks and balances. Some of this accountability and enforcement function lies with the other branches of government: oversight of the executive by the legislative branch through its committees and reports, and by the judiciary, which has its own proactive powers and can be petitioned by citizens and their representatives. But this republican structure can still be unresponsive or resistant to scrutiny, particularly when elites across the branches of government are indifferent to, or collude in, maintaining chronic problems in the justice system. Active non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are therefore recognised as a crucial component in the effective application of the rule of law due to their independence from government and their often-different perspective on the impact of unevenly applied and unjust laws and law enforcement through direct contact with the victims of arbitrary treatment. This chapter explores ways in which NGOs (both international and local) can contribute to strengthening rule of law through a case study of how the Open Society Institute and its Justice Initiative (OSJI) and a network of Brazilian NGOs developed a campaign to reduce the excessive use of pre-trial detention. It demonstrates how NGOs can fulfil important watchdog functions and are able to change laws, policies and practices that significantly improve the rule of law by working strategically with one another, with international partners and with sympathetic state actors.