UNCTAD XIII and Lawmaking

Doha, Qatar – I just came out of the UNCTAD Interagency Cluster Meeting on Trade and Productive Capacity. Toward the end of the session, the representative from UNCITRAL mentioned that development is grounded in a free and open legal framework for equitably resolving disputes. It’s a good point, but it reminded me of one of the classic chicken and egg dilemmas in development work.

No matter how good your laws are, they are worthless if they’re not enforced in a fair and effective way. Failing to enforce them, or enforcing them only on the powerless and non-privileged, makes your excellent laws useless. Excellent lawmaking needs the backing of rule of law, or it has no effect.

That, of course, brings the question of where you start. Do you start by working on law enforcement and rule of law? Or do you start by improving the quality of the laws that are being enforced? Excellent laws might be worthless without enforcement, but improving the enforcement of bad laws isn’t a good solution either. People won’t believe in and obey laws that are senseless, contradictory, or cruel.

UNCITRAL clearly focuses on model laws and improving lawmaking. I’ve seen other efforts that try to improve policing, or attack government corruption. Some programs try to target everything at once. Like most development work, anything you choose ends up being a compromise of some kind.