"Development targets should involve not just access to education, healthcare, clean water and other vital services, but also access to justice."
This statement, addressed to United Nations (UN) member states and endorsed by grassroots justice advocates, global leaders, and development experts, calls on the members of the General Assembly to support the inclusion of justice and legal empowerment - giving all people the power to understand and use the law to secure justice and meet basic needs - in the post-2015 development goals. (Editor's note: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a blueprint agreed to by the world in 2000, involved countries committing to 8 goals such as reducing child mortality and providing primary education. The MDGs are expiring in 2015. Talks are being held at the UN to decide what should replace them).
The statement sets out 5 measurable goals for access to justice, which are designed to strengthen efforts to eradicate extreme poverty:
- Access to information - "People should know about the laws and regulations that govern their lives, particularly those concerning essential services. States should commit to disseminating simple and clear statements of law and policy. They should also grant people an enforceable right to information to ensure that laws and regulations are implemented effectively."
- Legal identity - "Without state-issued identity documents, individuals may not be able to open a bank account, obtain a mobile phone, or secure the goods and services necessary to work and save for their families and their future. Government should ensure that access to legal identity is universal."
- Rights to land and property - "Giving communities the power to manage their land and natural resources would reduce poverty and promote sustainable development. Securing property rights for all individuals, including women, is necessary to improve financial stability and personal safety."
- Legal participation - "Just as communities should govern their land and natural resources, people should have a voice in how services like healthcare and education are delivered....Citizens must have a role in shaping the fundamental, everyday work of their governments, which in turn have a duty to operate transparently and respond to the needs of their citizens."
- Legal services - "Everyone should have access to fair, effective forums for resolving conflicts, for seeking protection from violence, and for addressing grievances with the state....Creative legal aid efforts, such as those that combine a small corps of public interest lawyers with a larger frontline of community paralegals, can seek effective solutions and engage the full range of justice institutions."
The statement makes the argument that affirming that justice, the rule of law, and legal empowerment belong in the framework for global development requires no great shift. It also stresses that civil society has a vital role in realising all 5 of these goals, such as by helping people understand and use the law. In Jordan, for example, advocates work with migrant women to recover salaries and passports unlawfully withheld by their employers. In Uganda, community-based paralegals help communities document their customary land claims, taking advantage of laws that were on the books but seldom used.
To that end, civil society organisations may voice their support by signing the statement here.