Impunity–exemption from punishment for doing wrongful acts.

Researchers at University of the Americas Puebla in Mexico studied criminal impunity in 59 nations and concluded that the Philippines had the highest level of impunity after Mexico itself. Insofar as Mexico was concerned, the researchers observed that “Mexico does not need to devote ever more resources to increasing the number of police, but rather to the processes that would guarantee the efficacy of their actions.”

There have been many cases recently of various incidents of thuggery, and what according to the reports sounds like just plain murder carried out by the police in America and it would be easy to get the impression that a shoot-first, ask-questions later attitude seems to prevail in some parts of the USA. When brought to court for claimed misdeeds, the officers concerned normally avoid any sanction for the action.

A quick glance at Live Leak would allow people to see homemade videos, normally taken with cell phones, of incidents of mob violence frequently in India, Africa or South America and occasionally Indonesia and China. They are very unpleasant to watch and evidence a mob hysteria in which normally acceptable behaviors, not only by the main perpetrators but also the many bystanders, just vanish. It’s quite scary. It is difficult to know whether the members of the mob ever suffer the consequences of their awful actions.

That to take human life is the exclusive prerogative of the state is the accepted norm in political philosophy, and rightly so otherwise we would have a dog-eat-dog world of violence and murder and mob violence would be the norm. But of course it’s not as simple as that. The police are agents of the state and thus endowed with greater power than everybody else thus with a very significant level of responsibility for their actions. While mob violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, it is difficult to apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators. But what about the bystanders?

Frequently, mob violence is spawned from accusations of witchcraft or sorcery. People accused of blighting harvests, causing children to be born with deformities, the sort of beliefs that were common in Europe in the Middle Ages. When witchcraft is mentioned, visions come to mind of Harry Potter, women with big noses wearing pointed hats flying through the night sky on broomsticks with their “familiars”–cats, sitting behind them. In a Philippines context, aswang will come to mind as well as Siquijor, famed as home of the witches. In Africa, the craft is still apparently alive and well–there are occasionally cases reported in Ghana and the Congo of “sorcerers” with magical powers that could shrink or even make vanish completely people’s limbs or internal organs. It was reported that people who had the misfortune to sit next to one of these people on the bus later discovered that one of their arms or legs had shrunk a lot and some had even disappeared completely. The guy in the most recently reported Congolese incident and accused of doing this was recognizable because he wore a large gold ring. Stories like this can incite mob violence and murder on the scantiest of evidence.

A Rule of Law meaning that laws fairly composed, applied and enforced govern the acts of the nation and its citizens that sanctions are applied by the state and arbitrary action by individual government officials is not allowed. The Philippines sits at No. 60 out of 99 countries surveyed in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. At No. 99, the worst of the countries surveyed–those where a Rule of Law is not robust, sits Venezuela with Afghanistan at No. 98. Colombia is at 61.

Indeed justice is often a difficult to obtain concept but in modern societies, the following four universal provisions must apply:

1.The government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law.

2.The laws are clear, publicized, stable and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.

3.The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient.

4.Justice is delivered in a timely fashion by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals that are of sufficient number, have adequate resources and reflect the make-up of the communities they serve.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden rank 1, 2 and 3 in the Rule of Law Index. The USA is No. 19 and UK, No. 13.

Clearly, the Philippines in its further development should improve its ranking, because the better the justice system, the less would be the temptation to take unilateral action and the more robust would be the environment for investment.

Mike can be contacted at


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