September 2015 will mark the expiry date of the 15 year-old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their revision at the UN level, toward the adoption of a new set of goals on poverty eradication.
In the debate on what should be in and what left out of the list, the Open Society Foundations raises its voice for the inclusion of access to justice for all, which was missing in the old set.
Their message, summarized in a short video, is that access to justice is crucial to social and economic growth and to the achievement of a world free from poverty, inequality and violence.
It is a fact that although we observed some progress, the global situation of the poorest, which account for a large portion of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) still live in a state of want.
Now, instead of blaming the old goals for being too ambitious, like some do, those who call for the inclusion of access to justice believe that ending poverty is a feasible objective for our era. One condition being that societies have strong, transparent and uncorrupted institutions.
The appeal for access to justice forms part of a broader debate on the overall limited attention given to human rights standards by the MDGs, especially the so-called “first generation” ones, as the goals mainly referred to social or economic targets, like decreasing hunger, improving maternal health or promoting primary education.
Many in the civil society, like Open Society Foundations, fear that ‘sustainability’, which seems to be the key word of the Post-2015 agenda, will leave again human rights out of the picture, and with them one of their bedrock: access to justice.
But what is justice?
Justice embraces many aspects of our life. It enables us to challenge the decisions that infringe upon our rights and to seek redress for the wrongs we suffer. It’s the empowerment of those who are lacking legal identity or recognition because of their origin or descent.
Justice also means expressing criticism against the governing power and advocating for a change, influencing the laws and policies making, with a view to ensuring that the state fulfils its human rights obligations.
While protecting and compensating the individual from exploitation and discrimination, the exercise of the tools of justice pushes public institutions to fight corruption and become more transparent, which definitely has an impact on the general well-being of the population.
This is clear in those countries where the remarkable economic growth and urban development are not going hand in hand with a raise in the general welfare and content of the people. In Brazil, for example, where violence and impunity are a concerning reality, it is reasonable to wonder if there can be true development without the people feeling safe.
On the contrary, there is evidence of cases where legal empowerment, especially of the most disadvantaged groups of the society has brought many benefits in terms of inclusion, improvement of health care and contrast of large-scale pollution.
The revision of the millennium development goals is not a trivial matter.
The new objectives are going to influence the spending priorities of donors and governments as well as the transnational business trends.
Stronger institutions, including independent and impartial judiciary, can work as an encouragement for foreign investors, who will appreciate the possibility to monitor their money and successfully challenge misuse.
Justice also means non-exploitation and fair distribution of benefits. As these seem to have become a priority of the UN Secretary-General - where he advocates for placing the people and the planet at the centre of the new development agenda, and calls for new inclusive ethics-driven investments and the abandon of the ‘business as usual’ approach – the promotion of access to justice can no longer be disregarded as a global goal for development.