World justice leadership powering up for new challenges

There is a great saying attributed to Lao Tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, and they say we did it ourselves.”

This sentence embodies leadership in the justice sector really well.

At HiiL Innovating Justice we have studied justice leadership and its role in justice change extensively. There is no CEO in the justice sector. It is a system with many silos (some of which have a rule of law purpose) and many stakeholders. Effective justice leaders need to constantly build constituencies, both internal an external, and across silos. Constituencies within government; across sectors like the judiciary, the prosecution, the bar association and civil society organisations; and towards other powerful actors. An effective justice leader is a navigator who is able to find compromises between groups, and who can get to the end result by being pragmatic without sacrificing bottom lines.

He/she works in a power environment but also has to stand for principles. Rule of law itself is about mitigating power. This can be very challenging, particularly in some environments like post-revolutionary states. Justice change can threaten power structures, illegally obtained riches, economic interests. The leader needs to constantly gauge his/her moral compass against the realities that are being faced and decide which compromise is acceptable to get to the desired result.

The Justice Leadership Group that we have launched last week has 7 leaders who have successfully managed to do all this, leading to tangible justice change for the better in their country and beyond. In alphabetical order:

  • Mr Sallahedin Al Bashir (former minister of justice of Jordan)
  • Mr Ernst Hirsch Ballin (former minister of justice of The Netherlands)
  • Mr Tharcisse Karugarama (former minister of justice of Rwanda)
  • Ms Kalthoum Kannou (member of the cour de cassation of Tunisia, presidential candidate, and leader of the revolution that toppled Ben Ali). She is not here. Judge Kannou just ran for president in Tunisia, as an independent candidate, or a secular, democratic, rule of law platform.
  • Ms Athaliah Molokomme (Attorney General of Botswana)
  • Mr Willy Mutunga (Chief Justice of Kenya)
  • Ms Claudia Paz y Paz (former prosecutor General of Guatemala). Ms. Paz y Paz’s term was brutally shortened following her extremely courage work to fight crime and violence in her country, up to the highest levels.

Their impressive stories and achievements can be read on the website In my interactions I am always so struck by their modesty. They will never tell you. It is us who call them leaders – they rarely do that themselves.

The Justice Leadership group supports justice leaders in the challenges they face, responds to their requests as well as takes action of its own volition. Having served justice and the people for a long period, we have come together to support others who have accepted the task and the challenge of serving justice in their societies. The Justice Leadership group was initiated by individuals who have a track record in justice change.

The Justice Leadership Group is strongly supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. In that, the ministry takes a leadership role in leadership.

To see the photo album of the Justice Leaders Group Lanch, please click here