This is an extract of a speech given by HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan to a meeting of UN Ambassadors from the Middle East and North Africa in spring 2014. Prince Hassan was a member of the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor and is a signatory to the Justice 2015 Open Letter to the UN.
An Arabic version of the Open Letter can be downloaded here.
By HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan
Poverty reduction cannot merely be achieved through economic growth and improved trade alone. As the work of the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor has consistently shown for the last decade, there are strong links between poverty, injustice and legal exclusion.
Today, over 4 billion people in the world are excluded from the legal system. This means that over half of the world’s population is not legally empowered to claim access to the most basic human rights that many of us take for granted – be it property rights, the right to earning a guaranteed minimum wage or the right to clean drinking water.
In the past, the relationship between law and development was narrowly focused on the law and state institutions. Over the last decade, the Commission has placed an emphasis on giving voice to the marginalized, by viewing them not as objects of a problem, but as people, as partners, and as part of the solution.
In the Arab world, the focus on legal empowerment has largely been overshadowed by pressing issues such as the conflict in Syria, environmental change and the impact of the global economic recession. However, as the Arab Spring showed, the consequences of ignoring the voices of the marginalized can cause profound instability.
Often decision-makers resist legal empowerment on the grounds that this might aggravate instability. Legal empowerment must be promoted as a tool of conflict resistance and resilience – and not as a catalyst for revolution.
To address long-term development in a way that is authentic to the Arab world, countries in the region will need to break free from the practices of the past. They will need to view legal empowerment as a tool for conflict resistance (and not just for revolution), involve civil institutions in development discussions, and use a data-based approach to drive policy. Ultimately, people need to view the law as a tool that works in their favor, and not something that needs to be overcome.
By excluding clauses related to justice and the rule of law, the first set of the MDGs were rendered ineffective in truly transforming the lives of the poorest and the most marginalized. To combat poverty in a meaningful way, the post 2015 Global agenda needs to include legal empowerment as a key element of the development roadmap.
Why Is Legal Empowerment of the Poor Important?
Enabling people with access to justice is essential to combating poverty in a meaningful way:
Why Is Legal Empowerment Not a Reality in the Arab World?
In the Arab world, legal empowerment has not been a foundational element of development and poverty reduction. In part, this has been the result of a need to constantly respond to pressing problems such as the impacts of environmental change, the global economic recession and more recently the conflict in Syria. However, as the Arab Spring has shown, ignoring the legal rights of the poor and most marginalized can have debilitating effects on a country’s development and prosperity.
When it comes to providing justice for all, countries in West Asia and North Africa are faced with challenges on several fronts:
What Are the Solutions to Enable Legal Empowerment?
The problems might seem intractable, but there exist solutions that will help develop and implement a unique and authentic Arab roadmap to inform future development:
By excluding justice and the rule of law, the first set of the MDGs were rendered ineffective in truly transforming the lives of the poorest and the most marginalized.
Enabling people to understand and use the law, to claim and exercise their rights, and to hold public institutions to account will result in economic growth, livelihoods and social equity.
As efforts to articulate a roadmap beyond 2015 draw to a close, it is especially important that we act now to include a goal on justice and legal empowerment in the post-2015 development agenda.