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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The most recent WJP Rule of Law Index found that the pandemic has exacerbated rising authoritarianism, eroded respect for fundamental rights, and fueled justice delays around the world.  At the upcoming World Justice Forum (May 30–June 3), advocates and experts from civil society, government, and the private sector will convene to plot a constructive path forward.  How can we reinvigorate momentum to reach Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and ensure dignity and justice for all?

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The city of The Hague in the Netherlands is home to more than 200 international organizations, including the International Court of Justice. This makes it the ideal setting for the World Justice Forum, the premier international event for advancing rule of law around the globe. The World Justice Forum runs from May 30-June 2, but your experience doesn’t have to start or end there, as it is the anchor event for The Hague Justice Week 2022 running throughout the city.

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The United States is facing significant and growing rule of law challenges. Diverse datasets capturing various dimensions of the rule of law reflect mounting concerns about democratic accountability, trust in electoral processes, contested rights of free expression and assembly, and systemic inequities in the U.S. justice system, among other issues, These trends raise questions about the quality of governance in the United States and, given the leadership role of the United States globally, they have implications for respect for the rule of law around the world as well. New data and related advanced analytical and machine learning methodologies hold great promise for improving understanding of these current U.S. rule of law trends and identifying reform needs and opportunities. As part of a new multi-year initiative focused on rule of law in the United States, the World Justice Project (WJP), together with the Wright Center for the Study of Computation and Justice Communities at Dartmouth College and Bright Line Watch, plans a two-day workshop for discussion of works-in-progress generating data insights on contemporary U.S. rule of law issues. The workshop will take place November 11-13, 2022, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Travel stipends will be available to support participation by those selected to present papers at the workshop.

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Russian tanks lined up for “Victory Day” in 2021. Credit: Elena Ostankova/iStock
Russian tanks lined up for “Victory Day” in 2021. Credit: Elena Ostankova/iStock

Vladimir Putin’s claims of genocide in Ukraine were more than a fictional basis to rally domestic support for an invasion, according to University of Chicago Professor Tom Ginsburg. They were an example of a growing trend Ginsburg has termed “authoritarian international law.”  We spoke with Ginsburg, the co-chair of the World Justice Project’s research consortium and the author of the 2021 book Democracies and International Law

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