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Taking Stock of the Justice 2015 Campaign

BY ABIGAIL MOY

With the 69th Session of the UN general Assembly approaching, it’s a good time to reflect on the progress of our Justice 2015 campaign.

Last month, the 13th and final meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG) on the Sustainable Development Goals concluded. The OWG issued its proposal in a final Outcome Document. The proposal  will now be incorporated into the Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report, which is due in November and will also serve as an input to future intergovernmental negotiations.

This means that there remains time and opportunity to influence the language and content of the post-2015 agenda. The OWG’s proposal reflects the months of intergovernmental debate, but many of its contents remain hotly contested.  As we prepare for the next round of negotiations, let’s take a moment to compare the original ‘asks’ that civil society made in our Open Letter to the UN with the language of the OWG final proposal. Below, I make the comparison and add a brief assessment of how things currently stand.

 Civil Society’s Illustrative Target #1: 

 Open Working Group Target #16.10:

Analysis: This is a good start. It doesn’t mention disseminating simple and clear statements of law and policy, as civil society’s open letter recommends, but thus far none of the targets get down to that level of detail. We should note, however, the presence of a typical phrase added to dilute the level of national commitment: “in accordance with national legislation.” We should certainly work to strengthen this language going forward.

Civil Society’s Illustrative Target #2:

Open Working Group Target #16.6

Analysis: Also a good basis for further advocacy. Civil society’s open letter took a more nuanced approach to the issue, however. While we argued for universal access to legal identity, we also suggested target language that left open the option of reducing the need for legal identity in general, for example by decoupling legal identity requirements for basic services and other benefits. (This was to ensure that, while governments work toward providing legal identity for all, those lacking documents in the interim would not be deprived of essential services.) The OWG addresses the former issue, but is silent on the latter.

Civil Society’s Illustrative Targets #3 & 4: 

Open Working Group Targets #1.4, 2.3, 5.a:

Analysis: In the end, our advocacy efforts could not secure a mention of “community land.” Also, all references to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) were removed. This is certainly a setback. On the bright side, the final language includes “ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources,” which, if paired with concepts of communal governance and collective management, can be very powerful. We will have to step up our efforts in this area going forward.

Civil Society’s Illustrative Target #5: 

Open Working Group Goal #16 & Targets #6.b, 5.5, 16.6:

Analysis: Goal 16 and Target 16.6 broadly calls for more accountable, transparent, and inclusive institutions, which covers all sectors. Since accountability and participation go hand in hand, this is promising. By sector, however, participation is explicitly addressed only in relation to water and sanitation; it does not appear in targets relating to health or education. Fortunately, “women’s participation in economic and public life” can be applied to a variety of sectors. On this issue, we should endeavor to combine our advocacy more seamlessly with existing campaigns around basic services, so as to ensure that legal empowerment is integrated throughout the post-2015 agenda.

 Civil Society’s lllustrative Target #6: 

 Open Working Group Goal #16 & Targets #16.3, 16.a: 

Analysis: Significantly, the word “justice” now makes an appearance at the goal level — previously it only appeared at the target level. Meanwhile, at the target level, the phrase “access to justice for all” has replaced “equal access for all to independent, effective, and responsive justice systems.” The present language arguably has broader applications, as it does not focus on the nature of the system so much as it references an outcome.

Still, we should be cautious – more vague language may obfuscate just what is required of states. Note, for example, the absence of any reference to “legal aid services” — affordable, fair, timely or otherwise. Legal aid is presumably represented by the concept of “access to justice for all,” but we may wish to seek greater specificity going forward.

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