Standing for the Rule of Law in 2021


In a year of enormous rule of law challenges around the globe, the World Justice Project sounded the alarm that 85% of the world’s population now live in countries where rule of law is declining. Throughout 2021, WJP worked to track and reverse these trends.

We tapped the voices of over 140,000 people around the world to deliver an actionable data roadmap for prioritizing governance and justice reforms. We crowdsourced hundreds of rule of law solutions and elevated grassroots innovations with the greatest promise for impact at scale. We advocated for critical reforms, and we advanced a data-driven movement to put people and their real-life struggles at the center of the justice agenda.

In 2022, we look forward to building on this year’s accomplishments – including the examples highlighted below – and to collaborating with all those committed to advancing the rule of law. Together we can move the world beyond recovery to a more just future.

delivering data

In October, leaders from government, business, and civil society joined us to launch the first in-depth, global assessment of rule of law since the pandemic began. The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2021 garnered global media attention and identified troubling trends. We mapped how COVID-19 has accelerated rising authoritarianism, finding that constraints on government powers fell in over 70% of countries studied and civic space closed in 82%. More countries – including Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Mexico – adopted Index indicators in national plans to benchmark and track progress in delivering justice and accountable, open government. And new partnerships with the U.S. Department of State and the European Union will allow us to more deeply explore rule of law trends across the Western Hemisphere and European Union member states.

making a powerful case
Photo by: Ignacio Miranda Hiriart

In the 2021 Netflix docuseries Reasonable Doubt: A Tale of Two Kidnappings, esteemed documentarian and WJP Researcher Roberto Hernandez follows four men’s shocking journey through the Mexican criminal justice system, despite a startling lack of evidence. The four-part film grew out of WJP research and puts anguished human faces to our mixed assessment of Mexico’s 2008 criminal justice reforms. We argue that improved trial transparency must now be followed by reforms to curb pre-trial deficiencies and abuses, including torture. Our short documentary Detectives de Chihuahua” demonstrates how professionalizing local police can finally empower them to investigate and legitimately solve major crimes. And our research into minor crimes reveals how expanding alternative dispute resolution will deliver more efficient, more just outcomes. Read more about our criminal justice work in Mexico.

championing rule of law solutions

We continue scouring the globe for the most promising local projects and policy-level solutions to ensure a more just future. World Justice Challenge 2021: Advancing Rule of Law in a Time of Crisis sourced 425 submissions from 114 countries, including projects to free children imprisoned during COVID-19, to empower survivors of surging domestic violence, and to tap technology to document corruption, election fraud and human rights abuses. In live virtual events, we showcased the replicable innovations of 30 finalists and six winners across six continents. In 2022, we’ll invite the next selection of Challenge finalists to the Hague for the premier international gathering for the rule of law movement. Join them, in person or virtually (May 30 - June 2). Register for World Justice Forum 2022: Building More Just Communities.

fueling the movement

We keep building on our research that revealed over 5 billion people lack meaningful access to justice. Our 2021 Grasping the Justice Gap challenge paper lays out a data agenda for the growing movement to prioritize people over institutions in justice reforms. And a follow-on project advances one major recommendation: making people-centered data more accessible to policymakers. Our interactive map links to all publicly available legal needs surveys conducted in the last three decades, reflecting people’s experiences in 108 countries and jurisdictions. Explore the Atlas of Legal Needs Surveys.


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Rede Wayuri is a network of 55 Indigenous communicators in the Rio Negro region of Brazil. Through their use of WhatsApp and local radio, they have not only reported on topics like illegal mining in the Amazon, but also distributed accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.   At the World Justice Forum in The Hague this past June, Rede Wayuri was presented with the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Award for their outstanding work in countering disinformation by bringing accurate, reliable information to 23 Indigenous peoples and 750 communities in five local languages and Portuguese. 

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When I was taking off to attend my first World Justice Forum, I had every expectation that I would hear the brightest minds debating the most complex social issues of our time. I was ready to learn about challenges unknown to me, faced by communities outside of the United States. What I didn’t expect was to see so many effective and transformative solutions that had already been implemented across the globe. The Justice Expo was not a showcase of proposals, suggestions, or hypotheses. It was an inventors’ forum: a spectacular display of evidence that dramatic change and global healing are achievable through innovation.

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During the World Justice Forum, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), called on the international community to save Afghan music, women musicians, and all Afghan musicians. He described the human rights that have been stripped away since the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover made Afghanistan a “silent nation.” You can read Dr. Sarmast’s full remarks from June 1, 2022, in The Hague below, edited for clarity, and watch a performance by ANIM students who now live in exile Portugal.  

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As one of Cambodia’s first human rights defenders, Vandeth recently made the difficult decision to stay home when the World Justice Project invited 30 World Justice Challenge finalists to showcase their exemplary rule of law projects at the World Justice Forum in The Hague.

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