No region of the world is immune from the declines, with European countries such as France, the United Kingdom and Hungary declining, along with Egypt and Cameroon in Africa and Cambodia and the Philippines in Asia, according to the WJP's Rule of Law Index 2020.
The report released on March 11 measured factors such as the absence of corruption, whether the nation maintains an open government, and whether there are constraints on government powers. In a troubling development, the figures are trending downward in recent years for many of the 128 countries tracked by the report, said Elizabeth Andersen, the organization's executive director.
"The same countries are declining year after year," said Andersen, noting that Egypt, Venezuela and Cambodia have seen the largest drops over a multiyear period.
The largest one-year drop was for Cameroon, due to falling scores in fundamental rights and order and security, and for Iran, with criminal justice scores falling there, according to the report.
The list was headed by Denmark, Norway and Finland, respectively. Eight of the report's top 10 countries are in Europe, with New Zealand and Canada the sole exceptions.
The top country from Asia is Singapore, at 12th place. Uruguay is the top Latin American country, ranked 22nd on the list; Barbados is the highest country from the Caribbean, coming in 29th; and Namibia is the top country from Africa, at 35th place.
The lowest ranked country was Venezuela, followed in reverse order by Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the report.
The United States dropped from 20th to 21st place on the overall list, with its highest scores for open government and absence of corruption and its lowest scores for civil justice and order and security, according to the report.
The WJP does not propose solutions as part of the report, but rather intends to assess the relative progress of the rule of law worldwide, said Alejandro Ponce, the organization's chief research officer.
On a positive note, governmental changes in Ethiopia and Malaysia allowed the rule of law to advance there, which Anderson believes are examples that should be supported by those interested in advancing the rights, to ensure that the reforms stick, she said.
"It's encouraging and an area for focus," Andersen said.
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--Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.