around the bar
July 5, 2008

South Africa: A Vivid Example of Life Without Rule of Law

The brutal effects of Apartheid were shared by Arthur Chaskalson, former chief justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa, in his keynote address during Friday’s luncheon at the World Justice Forum. Apartheid left no area of life untouched, he said. It was institutional in lives, it marginalized citizens and it was enforced through harsh means.

The rule of law was flawed in South Africa under Apartheid, in that only whites could vote, Chaskalson said. In his nation, the government had determined that whites were the superior race and the law legitimized that determination. He noted that the laws are still unfair in many countries.

To be truly effective, Chaskalson continued, the rule of law “must be part of the legal and political culture.” Post-Apartheid South Africa brought a new constitution that signified progress, and though “I am an optimist,” there is still widespread poverty, disparity between rich and poor, and violence, acknowledged Chaskalson.

The constitution is not enough in and of itself, and there has begun to be some “looking behind” the document to study service delivery and other aspects that affect daily life. Chaskalson mentioned public health as an example, including the AIDS crisis.

“If we believe in the dignity of everyone, we must work to create an environment in which is it allowed to occur,” and be fostered, stressed the Chief Justice.

Chaskalson’s address was followed by a lively conversation that included the keynoter, as well as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and William H. Taft IV, Warren Christopher professor of practice of international law and diplomacy at Stanford University.

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