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From the Rule of Law to a Culture of Justice: a Practitioner’s Challenge to Policy Thinkers

The Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance, and Development and the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies organised the Van Vollenhoven Lecture 2013.

Irene Khan
06 June 2013

In recent years the rule of law has gained new currency as a principle of good governance and a priority for economic development. But even as efforts concentrate on building better courts and training more judges and lawyers, more people are taking to the streets, demanding fundamental reforms. 
There is a global crisis of the rule of law, a dangerous deficit of public trust in institutions and a deep disconnect between the formal mechanisms of justice and people’s lived experience. This becomes all the more acute as the world community discusses the agenda for development and sustainability post-2015.
At all levels, new power dynamics are forcing practitioners and policy makers to confront new realities: we cannot transform judicial and legal institutions if we do not seek to nurture a culture of justice. 
That brings to the fore a new set of challenges. What does a culture of justice mean? Whose voice matters? How realistic is justice in countries mired in conflict or in poverty? There are no easy answers but plenty of examples of what is happening – or not happening – in the real world. It’s time we listened and learned. True rule of law is less about building institutions and more about building people’s confidence in justice.

Irene Khan is Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). An international thought leader on human rights, gender and social justice issues, Irene Khan was Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2001 - 2009. Prior to that, she worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 21 years at headquarters and in various field operations.

The Van Vollenhoven lectures are organized in honour of Cornelis van Vollenhoven, the Leiden law professor who acquired fame between 1901 and 1933 for his elaborate and detailed description and analysis of the laws of the Netherlands-Indies as well as for his impressive contributions to public international law.

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