In search of a universal rule: rule of law, democracy and human rights


David Ormon Carter is a judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. David began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in 1972, where he became the Senior Assistant District Attorney. Since 1994 he has been a visiting professor to teach International drug trafficking and terrorism law in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Irvine. Some of the notable cases where he was the arbiter include the 2001 Mexican Mafia Trials (United States v Fernandez), 2006 Aryan Brotherhood trial (United States v Mills), 2012 Armenian Mafia trial (United States v Arman Sharopetrosian), and international terrorism cases such as United States v Leung (2005), United States v Afshari et al (2009), etc He is now associated with the Federal Judicial Center, the Orange County Federal Bar Association, the Federal Judges’ Association, and many other institutions. Mohammad Golam SarwarConsultant, Law Desk, The Daily Star interviews him on the following questions.

Law Desk (LD): How do you see the current state of the rule of law and democracy in the world?

David Carter (DC): Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State of the United States of America, asked a wonderful question about what the rule of law is, and I think we’re looking for a universal rule that is somewhat achievable , but not uniformly, across the world. An example may be the way terrorism is defined. The United States has struggled with the definition which it says is now an act or failure to act that influences governments and where there is a horrific crime involved in an effort to change our government. However, in giving that definition, it understood that individual countries could modify that definition. So, for me, the rule of law is based on the concept of fairness and I fear – whether it is terrorism, the environment or human trafficking – that we are approaching the problem of a way that puts us in a position to conduct inappropriate trials. When we do that, we become a sentencing society without due process, and our goal should be to ensure due process and safeguards. If we do that, we become the alternative to the terrorist system. If we rushed to quick and inappropriate solutions, I would be concerned about the rule of law and it would also cause problems with sentencing and punishment. We need to think about whether we can tackle these problems by reducing sentences or focusing more on rehabilitation – the example of the rehabilitation and reintegration of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka can be cited here. regard. Whatever definition we may have of the rule of law, it must reconcile punishment, deterrence and human rights. And it must be the judicial system that must seek this balance.

LD: Why didn’t we use the human rights framework to fight the pandemic?

CC : Balancing the interests of the economy and public health in a time like the COVID pandemic is a thorny challenge – there is no absolutism. This will naturally take jobs and largely from the poor. Some studies indicate that minority populations in the United States are less likely to take vaccines because they are historically subject to medical mistreatment and are therefore less likely to trust the government. Therefore, making vaccination compulsory, especially in the workplace, raises the question of whether a health care structure has been built where it would be viable. The pandemic has permanently altered the workforce and poorer communities are primarily affected.

Mass media plays an important role in society because the government alone cannot educate or motivate people to voluntarily comply with health and vaccination measures. Democracy is currently being tested – for a time, the world order leaned towards increased democracy; but lately there have been doubts about whether democracy is the most effective way to tackle some of today’s global problems. Democracy can be a slow process – yielding good but not perfect results. But when democracy weakens or weakens, we can get faster solutions, which may not take into account the general interest of the people of the country. When people are empowered to participate in decision-making, they are more protective of society and its interests. But when their voice is taken away from them, for example, due to lack of access to courts or legal proceedings, they may resort to self-help or violent tactics. The lack of a speedy and efficient trial seriously undermines human rights, as the accused is kept in detention for long periods of time even before being sentenced. We need to find a mechanism that gives judges more discretion to settle cases faster and more efficiently. Judges and academics should have more ways to contribute to legislative mechanisms to achieve this.

LD: How do you assess the role of the international community in solving the problem of displaced people from Myanmar and the environmental, economic and security impacts of the influx on Bangladesh?

CC : We need to assess why the international community is more attentive to the issue of Ukraine than to the issue of the displacement of the Rohingyas from Myanmar. This could be out of self-interest or perhaps because the international community is not fully aware of the inhumane treatment the Rohingya people have suffered, perhaps due to cultural, ethnic or religious differences. Culturally, Bangladesh is more friendly to the Rohingyas due to the common religion, among other things. Humanity sometimes gets lost in diversity and while it is commendable that Bangladesh is concerned about the plight of the Rohingya, we must also ask ourselves why the international community is not so responsive. The international community should have come to the aid of the Rohingyas a long time ago. A country must properly regulate the influx of people into their country to ensure that no one abuses the processes and to ward off possible cases of trafficking. Bangladesh has, on the whole, approached the issue in a very humane way. The interrelationship between other countries and Bangladesh is of crucial importance for them to be aware of the current situation in Bangladesh regarding the Rohingyas.

LD: Thank you for your time.

CC : Thanks a lot.


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